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Managing Back Pain

Back pain is a common condition that will be experienced by most Americans at some point during their lifetime. Depending on the type of back pain you have, you may have different options for prevention, treatment and recovery.

I’ve never had back pain before

First-time pain

I feel good most of the time, but the pain keeps coming back.

Repeat pain

I live with pain all the time

Persistent pain

Back pain is usually not serious. Though it may hurt a lot, it typically improves quickly, and most people will see significant improvement in two to four weeks. In rare cases, back pain can be a sign of a serious medical problem. If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Pain that keeps you up all night or is not relieved by lying down
  • Changes in controlling your bowel or bladder
  • Leg weakness that gets worse
  • Numbness and tingling in the upper part of your legs, along with back pain

Although it is common, there are many myths about the causes and treatment of back pain. Here's information to help you know what to expect with your back pain care.

Myth: Back pain is usually disabling.
Fact: Back pain can be intense, but it is rarely serious or disabling. In fact, 7 out of 10 people typically get better in 2 weeks. Nine out of 10 typically get better in 4 to 6 weeks with or without treatment.

Myth: Rest – and not working – is the best medicine for back pain.
Fact: Early movement and return to all your usual activities, including work, usually helps speed up healing. It also helps loss of strength.

Myth: Slipped disks require surgery to repair.
Fact: Surgery is rarely needed to repair even herniated disks. Most get better on their own or with spine therapy.

Myth: You need narcotics for back pain.
Fact: Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medicines. Narcotics are rarely used and can actually make the pain worse. They also cause drowsiness and constipation and have a risk of addiction.

Myth: MRIs and CT scans can identify the source of pain.
Fact: There are many pain-producing tissues in the back, including muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and disks. Most of the time we can't identify the exact cause of the pain. Even sophisticated tests like MRIs and CT scans aren't of much help. In fact, MRIs are often abnormal in people who don't have any back pain at all.

Myth: Most back pain is caused by injury or heavy lifting.
Fact: People who have jobs where they sit all day are just as likely to have back pain as those who do very physical jobs.

Learn more about back pain relief with this helpful guide.

Back exercises

These exercises help stretch your back.

Pelvic tilt

Lie flat on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, body relaxed. Tighten the abdominal muscles. Tilt the pelvis so the curve of the small of the back is flat on the floor. Hold 10 seconds, then relax. Continue to breathe.

Pelvic tilt image

Repeat 10 times, 3-4 times each day.

Knee raise

Lie flat on your back, knees bent. Bring one leg slowly to your chest as shown. Hug your knee gently, then return to the start position. Repeat the exercise with other leg.

Knee raise image

Repeat 5 times with each leg, 3-4 times each day.

Partial press-up

Lie face down on a firm surface. Rest for a few minutes, relaxing completely. Raise your upper body and rest on your elbows. Let your lower back relax toward the floor. Relax your legs as much as you can. Hold position for 5-10 seconds. Return to the starting position.

Partial press-up image

Repeat 5 to 10 times, 3-4 times each day.

Decision support

Learn about how to get care for your back.

Find care for back pain.

How to use your benefits

Nurse Navigator is a free phone service. Member advocates can explain your benefits and treatment options. Call the Nurse Navigators from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday:

  • 952-883-5000
  • 800-883-2177
  • 952-883-5127 (TTY)

Talk about care options

The CareLine is a free phone service that’s staffed with registered nurses. The nurses can answer your questions and discuss treatment options. Call 24/7 for help:

  • 612-339-3663
  • 800-551-0859
  • 952-883-5474 (TYY)

Interactive tools

Preventing pain

Need help managing or relieving pain? Download your free copy of the eBook from HealthPartners.

Download e-book

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