Top 5 Tips for Dealing with Common Back Pain Problems

Heather Logue Fact Checked
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Lower back pain can be incredibly disruptive: it can affect everything from your movement to your mood. And with all that chaos comes questions about what is causing your pain and — importantly — how to treat it and get on with your life.

Fortunately, Dr. Brian Krabak, a sports medicine physician at UW Medicine and a team physician for UW Husky Athletics, has answers for some of the most common questions about lower back pain.

Should you see a doctor for back pain? If so, when?

Krabak’s heard it all, from people claiming that you shouldn’t see a doctor at all to others saying you should go directly to a surgeon. The real answer? If your pain has lasted for more than a few weeks, you’re feeling worried about it or you feel significant numbness and/or weakness in your leg, schedule an appointment with your primary care doc, a physical therapist or a sports or spine medicine specialist. They can then help you figure out next steps for addressing your discomfort.

Does exercise make back pain worse?

In most cases, nope. In fact, exercise is a really important part of your back pain recovery. What can hurt and quickly decondition the muscles in your back is inactivity, so don't be afraid of stretches and strengthening exercises, which make you stronger and more flexible (and ultimately help your back pain). And if you consistently exercise, you just may be preventing future bouts of back pain. Win-win! 

How can I get instant relief for my back pain?

Though there isn’t one single treatment that can guarantee instant relief for your back pain, a few tried and true methods will help you feel better. Krabak recommends using ice or heat, stretching, physical therapy and over-the-counter pain medication. Plus, having an optimistic mindset can work wonders. And don’t forget to keep moving.

Will I need back surgery?

Probably not. Though a few conditions require this more drastic step, most back pain can be treated using other methods. Talk to your doctor for more information about your treatment options.

Is it normal to feel anxious about my back pain?

It sure is. Talking to your doctor about your anxiety can help — they can offer strategies and tools to cope. A few things that Krabak suggests?

  • Try deep breathing techniques to help yourself calm down.
  • Get outside and socialize with loved ones.
  • Get exercising and moving — it can help some people feel less anxious.