Tips to relieve back pain at home

Wilfred Hynes, MD is an anesthesiologist at Tufts Medical Center.Are you suffering from routine or mild low back pain? We asked Director of the Tufts Medical Center Pain Management Center and back pain expert of the Spine Center in Boston, Wilfred Hynes, MD to provide information on ways to relieve less-severe back pain at home. 


When your back is seizing up or in pain, the last thing you often want to do is move or exercise. However, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that low-impact exercise (stretching included) is one of the best ways to ease back pain and prevent future pain. Stretching is a great option for those who are in too much pain for more intense exercise. It can also provide quick relief. Stretching for even a few minutes a day can be helpful in reducing back pain.

Alternate heat and cold on problem areas

Both cold and heat therapy can help ease back pain at home, though it is often best to start with cold.

For the first 24 to 72 hours following a back injury, cold therapy can help reduce swelling and inflammation in the area. When applying an ice pack or other form of cold therapy, make sure to place a cloth between your skin and anything frozen to reduce the chance of ice burns. Be sure to only apply cold therapy for 20 minutes at a time, no more than 10 times per day.

After swelling has subsided, heat therapy can be used to ease pain and decrease stiffness in the area. There are two types of heat therapy: dry and moist. Dry heat therapy includes electric heating pads and hot water bottles. These methods are often faster and easier to apply. Moist heat therapy includes hot baths, steamed towels, or moist heating packs.

One type of heat therapy may feel better for one person than another, and finding the right combination of heat and cold may require some experimentation. Be cautious when using heat, and experiment with both heat and cold therapies to find out which works best for you. A consultation with a Physical Therapist can help find the right balance for your specific needs.

Consider OTC medications 

There are a number of over-the-counter medications that can help ease back pain and reduce inflammation. NSAIDs such as aspirin or ibuprofen are among the most common medications – obtained without a prescription – for pain and inflammation. Read the label and be sure to always use as directed.

Topical Rubs (such as Icy Hot) are available as sprays, salves, rubs, or balms and can be used to relieve back tissue pain. These are also available over-the-counter and can be a fast and easy way to quickly relieve inflammation and back pain.

If you feel that OTC options are not doing enough to relieve your pain, please consult your physician. The Pain Management Center at Tufts MC can help determine what medication (or combination of medications) is right for you.

Prevent future pain

You may be able to prevent future back pain or back pain recurrence by being more aware of your daily body mechanics. Proper body mechanics include:

  • Maintaining a neutral pelvic position
  • Placing one foot on a footstool if you are standing for a long time; Alternating feet
  • Choosing a seat with good lower back support, armrests, and a swivel base
  • Placing a pillow or rolled towel behind your back when sitting
  • Changing position frequently when sitting
  • Avoiding heavy lifting, if possible
  • Lifting from your legs and keeping your back straight

If you have prolonged/chronic pain, new pain, numbness, weakness, loss of bowel/bladder control or other symptoms that concern you, please talk to your primary care doctor about making a referral to a pain specialist. The Pain Management Center at Tufts MC specializes in eliminating or reducing pain (mostly chronic neck and back pain) so that you can enjoy a normal, pain-free life again.

To make an appointment at the Spine Center at Tufts Medical Center, call 617-636-2266 Monday – Friday, 8am – 4:30pm. 

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