6 Simple Things You Can Do to Ease Back Pain Now

Swimming or stretching could help soothe your aching back.

woman doing stretches at sunset

Medically reviewed in February 2022

Updated on April 14, 2022

Chances are you’ve experienced back pain at some point in your life. In fact, in one 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 39 percent of American adults said they had lower back pain in the previous three months. And while your chances of having more severe or frequent back pain increases as you get older, there are some things you can do to ease pain now.

We spoke with Woosik Chung, MD, a spine and orthopedic surgeon with Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, for the best back pain remedies you can try today.

Start stretching. If you have lower back pain, Dr. Chung suggests trying a hamstring stretch to prevent acute flare ups: Sit down and extend one leg in front of your body, lean forward until you feel a stretch in the hamstring, and repeat with the other leg.

Work it out. If you’re looking for a good workout that’ll also help reduce back pain, Chung suggests isometric strengthening exercises. “For example, if you’re doing crunches, tense your abs, count to 10, and then relax it and repeat,” he says. These slight, repetitive and targeted movements help strengthen the core muscles so they can better support your back.

If you want to mix in some cardiovascular work, Chung suggests swimming. “It’s a great form of exercise for the lower back and neck," he says. "You’re working against the gentle resistance of the water, which will strengthen your core, as well.”

Apply ice or heat. If you just finished a workout that’s causing your back to ache, or you’re experiencing a flare up, apply ice for 10 to 20 minutes. “It’s going to cool down the inflammation,” says Chung. Ice can also be a preventative measure. “I tell my patients to apply ice after a workout even if they’re not feeling sore,” he adds.

Heat is a better option later in the day when you want the back muscles to relax. And there’s nothing wrong with a topical cream like Icy Hot, says Chung, so long as it provides the relief you need.

Indulge in a massage. A deep tissue or sports massage may allow your muscles to recover from a good workout session or a long day at work, says Dr. Chung. Massages have also been proven to reduce pain symptoms in people with low back pain.

Try a pain reliever. Sometimes ice or heat simply won’t cut it, and that is when Chung suggests taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like aspirin or ibuprofen. And while NSAIDs may seem harmless, Chung warns that you should talk to your healthcare provider before taking them so that you’re aware of any possible side effects or drug interactions—especially if you’re on blood thinners.

Get more restful sleep. If you have back pain, you may want to check your mattress. In fact, a good mattress is more important than your sleeping position, says Chung. If your mattress isn’t the problem, consider adding an extra pillow to your bed. “If you’re a side sleeper, placing a pillow between your legs may help equalize the pressure on the spine,” he says. If you sleep on your back, he suggests adding a pillow under your knees to ease any tension.

Article sources open article sources

Lucas JW, Connor EM, Bose J. Back, Lower Limb, and Upper Limb Pain Among U.S. Adults, 2019. CDC: National Center for Health Statistics. NCHS Data Brief. No. 415. July 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Acute Low Back Pain. January 31, 2022. Accessed April 14, 2022.
University of Michigan Health. Use Heat or Ice to Relieve Low Back Pain. November 16, 2020. Accessed April 14, 2022.
Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, et a. A Comparison of the Effects of 2 Types of Massage and Usual Care on Chronic Low Back Pain. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2011 Jul 5;155(1):1-9.
NIH: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Massage Therapy: What You Need To Know. May 2019. Accessed April 14, 2022.
Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, et al. Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2017 Apr 4;166(7):514-530.

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