Conventional Treatment Options for Lower Back Pain

Your doctor may recommend different non-surgical therapies to help control lower back pain.

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When researching the best ways to tackle your low back pain, you may be overwhelmed by the number of available treatment options. Even if you have narrowed the list to conventional non-surgical therapies, the options may still seem endless. From prescription medications to back braces, your physician can help you decide which treatments will best help you ease your pain and prevent it from developing into chronic low back pain.

Read on to learn more about conventional non-surgical therapies that can help you treat your low back pain.

man experiences back pain while moving boxes

Heat and Ice Therapy
Heat and cold packs are a convenient, natural way to treat lower back pain. While ice helps to slow blood flow and reduce swelling, heat stimulates blood flow which can help relax and heal sore muscles.

You may wish to alternate between cold and hot treatments (starting with the ice). However, there is no hard and fast rule to heat and ice therapy; you should stick with whatever feels best. Still, be sure to refrain from putting ice, ice packs, or heat packs directly on your skin, since this can lead to skin injury.

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications for Lower Back Pain
For low back pain that is not acute or severe, an over-the-counter medication may be helpful. Acetaminophen (eg, Tylenol) is commonly used to reduce body pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help ease inflammation, a common cause of neck or back pain. The onsite pharmacist can make a recommendation and explain the differences between the different brands, including generic equivalents.

If over-the-counter medications do not work, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications, muscle relaxants, anti-depressants, or opiods to help you treat your lower back pain.

Remember that both over-the-counter and prescription medications can cause side effects and lead to dangerous drug interactions. Talk to your doctor about all of the medications you are taking, including alternative treatments and herbs.

Spinal Injections
Injections deliver medications directly to the source of your pain. Your doctor will target a particular trigger point, nerve, or joint in your lower back for the injection. Talk to your doctor about injections early on in your treatment since some injections become less effective the longer you have had the pain.

Click the links below to learn more about common injections for back pain, including:  

  • epidural steroid injections: Your doctor will inject a steroid into the epidural space, the area surrounding the spinal cord through which spinal nerve roots pass.
  • trigger point injections: Trigger points are areas on the body which hurt when touched and may cause pain to shoot through the body. Massaging these points can help relive pain; however, if that does not work, your doctor may suggest an injection.
  • nerve root blocks: These injections target specific nerves in the back that are causing your pain.
  • facet injections: A steroid and anesthetic may be injected into a facet joint, the joints located between vertebrae in your spine.

It is important to remember that injections do not heal low back pain; they only help relieve the pain. This means that you should take care not to reinjure your back once it begins to feel better.

Back Braces and Other Stabilizers
Back braces help support your body and restrict the amount you are able to move, forcing you to practice proper posture following an injury. The amount of time that you need to wear a brace varies based on the extent and cause of your lower back pain. Remember that wearing a brace does not automatically protect your back from further injury; you must continue to exercise caution, especially when engaging in physical activity.

Physical Therapy
A physical therapist can help you structure a recovery plan that targets your specific lower back symptoms. Physical therapy may include ice/heat, ultrasound, warm up movements to ready your back and body for gentle stretching and exercise. Physical therapy may be challenging at first but can be helpful long term.

Your doctor may prescribe one of these therapies, or a combination of treatments, to help you treat your lower back pain. Be sure to contact your doctor if you experience any new pains or side effects during or following treatment.

Updated on: 06/19/17
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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for Low Back Pain
Jason M. Highsmith, MD
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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for Low Back Pain

Read this article to learn about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments for back pain.
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