A business man holding his lower back in pain

Getting up, you feel a stabbing pain in your lower back. You stop, afraid to move. You barely dare to breathe. You try to walk, but every step makes the pain worse.

You aren’t sure you can make it across the room, let alone reach your phone for help. 

Worse yet, you aren’t sure why this is happening. You just want the pain to go away.

Maybe you have arthritis. Or turned wrong lifting something heavy. 

Standing up, coughing or changing positions turns into  ‘catch your breath’ pain. Whatever caused it the pain, moving makes you grab your back and brace yourself. 

Lower back pain impacts your home life, work, and relationships. You only care about one thing:

how to relieve your lower back pain fast.

And you’re not alone. 

An older woman sitting on a rock neck to her crutches.

Reduce Your Risk of Lower Back Pain

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a 2010 study for the U.S., U.K. and Australia to review lower back pain research from 47 countries. The study highlighted lower back pain as a leading cause of disability in the world. 

If you are from Western Europe, North Africa or the Middle East, you are more likely to have lower back pain. 

In the U.S., about 1 in 10 people suffer from it. And, sorry guys, men are slightly more likely to have pain than women.

If you are older, you are particularly vulnerable due to osteoarthritis, degeneration of the spine, and other medical conditions. This is especially true if you have a low or middle income, as access to care may be more difficult.

Do you have a family medical history of back pain and related disorders? If yes, then you are at greater risk. 
But there are things you can do to lessen the pain and prevent the risk of chronic disability.

Genetic predisposition for a disease related to low back pain includes arthritis, diabetes and cancer.
But your genes do not guarantee you will get a disease. It simply means you are at greater risk than other

Your pain can be from a recent event and last a few days. Or be a chronic problem and last for months or years. 

It may be due to other medical conditions like disc herniations or the trauma from a fall. 
The Annals of Rheumatic Diseases state that lower back pain is also the leading cause of disability in the workplace. Falls and other injuries happen whether you work in an office building or do construction outdoors. The cost to Americans is more than $100 billion in health care, lost wages, absenteeism and decreased productivity each year.

Despite these facts, lower back pain does not usually mean you have a hopeless or dangerous disease. And there are many options to treat your pain depending on its cause. 

A woman raking fall leaves

What Causes Sudden Lower Back Pain?

Were you raking the leaves? Stooped over gardening? Shoveling snow? 

You feel your lower back begin to tighten up. There is an uncomfortable, nagging ache when you move. And if you move the wrong way – sharp pain. 

Maybe you slipped going down the stairs? Or twisted your back playing soccer with your friends over the weekend?

These are common examples and symptoms of acute or recent lower back pain. They are often caused by muscle strains or body damage due to injury or overuse. 

Lower back pain causes are grouped as being either acute (recent) or chronic (3 months or more and recurring) pain.

The common causes of acute lower back pain include:

  • Sports, work or home falls and injuries to the lower back
  • Muscle strain or ligament sprain due to sudden or heavy lifting movements
  • Temporary discomfort from traveling, sitting or standing too long.

The common causes of chronic lower back pain include severe trauma and recurring pain from falls and injuries. Medical conditions associated with skeletal problems, herniated discs and rheumatoid arthritis are also common.

Regardless of the cause, you want to stop the pain fast and get back to your life.

How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Faster 

A young male athlete bending into a backstop with back pain

You can reduce and prevent the risk of most lower back pain. In fact, you can lessen the pain when it happens and how long it lasts. Simple self-care and lifestyle choices can heal your back within a few weeks to a few months. 

What can you do to quickly reduce or eliminate your pain? Let’s start with the easiest – home treatment for mild, acute low back pain.

1. Ice, Then Heat

Start with ice 20 minutes several times a day for two days after the pain starts. Ice reduces your blood flow and swelling to the injured area temporarily. It also lessens your pain signals to the brain.

Grab a bag of frozen vegetables or visit a nearby store where ice/heat  packs are sold. Try local drug stores, university bookstores with sports medicine programs, and online.

Follow 2 days of ice with 20-minute heat intervals for two days. Heat relaxes your muscles and increases circulation for faster healing.

2. Over the Counter Pain Relievers 

White prescription bottle with little yellow smiley face capsules spilling out.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Alleve) can be helpful for your common muscle strains or ligament sprains.

These are preferred to acetaminophen (Tylenol). Tylenol studies have shown it is not effective for chronic low back pain and may only offer you short-term benefits. It also has risks with long-term use if you have kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke or a  heart attack.

COX-2 Inhibitors (Celebrex and Bextra) can be used. These newer NSAIDS block an enzyme that causes inflammation and pain in your lower back. They are helpful if you have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

If using any NSAIDS more than 10 days without relief,
you want to see a health provider that can further diagnose your condition.

Numerous topical creams, gels and lotions can provide relief, as well as reduce your swelling with menthol or other cooling ingredients. You can find them online and in your local Walgreens or CVS.

Herbal pads can be used for cooling or warming your lower back for faster healing. The herbal resin is absorbed through the skin. It interacts with body heat to relieve the pain of your muscles and joints for arthritis, bruises, sore muscles and muscle strains. You can purchase these through a local acupuncturist, health sciences university bookstore, or online.

3. Non-Drug Lower Back Pain Relief

Cautious about medication? Or are you on a medication that may not mix well with other prescription drugs, over the counter remedies or supplements? 

There are good non-drug options available.

Try transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units. These non-invasive, remotely controlled devices can provide quick relief of pain by interrupting pain signals in your body. They also improve circulation and relax muscles so you feel better sooner.

Ear seeds or beads can help reduce your pain. Acupuncturists use these as methods of prolonging the benefit of an office treatment. You can stimulate them with your fingers every day for a few days to reduce your pain faster.

Get instructions on how to lift heavy objects at home or on the job to reduce your risk of future lower back pain. Back support belts and ergonomic devices can help you move heavy objects without straining your lower back again.

4. Lower Back Pain Exercises To Ease Your Pain and Stress

Gentle back, abdominal and thigh muscle stretches can relieve your pain. 

A simple floor exercise is shown in the picture above. You rest on your knees and legs, face toward the floor. Slowly move your hands out in front of you in an easy stretch. 

This gentle stretch will ease the muscles along your whole back. Pay attention to your pain.  Do not go further than you can comfortably. 

If flexibility or comfort are an issue, try a cat stretch exercise

This exercise can be done  on your hands and knees. Laying on your back. Or sitting in your car at a stop light. Get on your hands and knees on a comfortable mat or carpet. Lock your arms comfortably in place. Keep your hands and knees on the mat. Gently let your head drop toward your chest while you pull your lower spine towards the ceiling.

Your back will gently arch like a kitty after a cat nap.  Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. 

Then, without moving your knees or hands, drop your belly/spine toward the floor. Slowly look up toward the ceiling with your head. Hold this for 10 seconds. Repeat the sequence 5 times daily or as needed.

On the floor,  lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Make sure your shoulders and your hips remain in contact with the floor while you lift your stomach toward the ceiling. Then push your lower back into the floor.

If seated, sit with your knees bent 90 degrees and both feet flat on the floor. Steady your hands on your upper thighs and sit up straight.

Imagine a string is coming from your navel to the space in front of you. And from your lower back to the space behind you.  The string gently pulls your stomach forward for 10 seconds. Then pulls your lower back behind you for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.

5. Transform Your Lower Back Pain Through Movement

Gentle movement helps you reduce pain after sitting or standing in one place for too long. If you have a sedentary job or travel long distances, take a break and a brief walk.

Body movement and breathing practices such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong are easy to do. You can practice these with an expert teacher, take a local community education course, or use a video at home. There are many styles, so you may have to try a few to see what works for you.

Movement practices,  like Qi Gong, are often most effective used in combination with other mindbody techniques, such as transcendental meditation or yoga. Choose an expert that specializes in pain management.

Is your mattress too hard? Too soft? Or just right? 

Do you bound out of bed with anticipation each morning? Or do you roll over, grimace, and crawl out from under the sheets?

Your bed can make a difference. So can your pillow.

Proper pillows for the head, neck and low back are important. It supports your neck and lower back while it straightens and aligns your spine.

A firm pillow under your knees if you are a back sleeper,  can make a difference. Use a pillow between your knees if you are a side sleeper. 

Stomach sleepers have the least supported spine and back position. Place a pillow under your pelvis.

Relieve Lower Back Pain During Pregnancy

You’re having a baby! You are so excited. But pregnancy has its challenges too.

As your belly grows, you begin to walk, sit and move differently. Your changing body is now supported by your muscles and ligaments. But they bear the weight intended for your bones.

As labor approaches, your baby’s body may press against lower back and leg nerves. Lower back pain and sciatica make you  long for a safe but earlier due date.

Gentle stretching, walking and support with pillows while sleeping can be helpful. Maternity belts, belly bands, and pregnancy back support can help lessen the strain on your lower back muscles. 

Consider seeing a CranialSacral therapist for low back and sciatic pain during pregnancy. Doulas and midwives are professional care providers that can ease that journey during labor. And, of course, always be checking in with your doctor.

Does Your Lower Back Pain Need Professional Care?

85% of people can’t identify a specific cause for their lower back pain. Knowing the cause helps determine the right treatment. 

The wrong treatment costs time and money. It keeps you in pain. Or increases the pain.

Worse yet, there may be something more serious happening. And the right treatment is being delayed.

Lower back pain can be triggered by simple, everyday habits like bad posture, bending wrong or lifting improperly. 

It can also  indicate a growing tumor or worsening arthritic disorder in your lower back. 

Is your lower back pain a serious disorder?

        The truth is, lower back pain treatment and relief depends on many factors:

  • the cause – acute or chronic pain
  • the severity of the lower back pain
  • the location of the lower back pain
  • the type of pain you are experiencing
  • lifestyle choices you make to prevent or lessen pain

Fortunately, lower back pain is not usually associated with a serious illness. But what if self-care and over the counter activities don’t help reduce the pain? 

When is it time to seek professional help?

If your pain is not getting better in a couple of days, consider seeing a professional. This is especially true if you have been injured at work or home. 

Do you have a medical history of disease that can affect your back? Do you have arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, spinal disorders, or disk herniations? Do you have chronic low back pain?

Many health professionals are trained to work with dysfunction and pain in the body. They can help identify the cause of your pain. And help  guide you about your treatment options for the best – and fastest – way to relieve your lower back pain.

How do you find a good healthcare provider?

Ask for a referral from your doctor. Also ask friends, family and coworkers how they found a solution for a similar concern. 

Check to see where the healthcare provider is located so you have easy access. Read their reviews if they have an online website. 

If price or lack of insurance is an issue, check for  reasonable payment options. Look for universities with health programs. They  often offer discounted care for interns working under licensed practitioners. Community style clinics may offer free to reduced price care for you.

If your lower back pain is a recurring problem, your may need periodic attention for maintenance or prevention. There are a variety of professionals trained to work with dysfunction and pain in  your body.

What is the difference between health providers for lower back pain?

Many care providers today specialize in sports medicine, orthopedics, occupational health and wellness, women’s health, healthy aging, and other disease specific care. If you have a serious and immediate need for your lower back pain, it is time to consider one of these providers below.

Image by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

A good massage therapist can reduce both inflammation and pain quickly. Consider a well trained therapeutic massage or myofascial release therapist. The best have national certification.

A physical therapist or chiropractor can assess your pain, especially  if it is persistent. They can work with you and your body’s biomechanics to correct structural problems. 

  • Do you carry your neck too far in front of your body changing the alignment of your body? 
  • When you stand with straight, locked legs, does one of your hips drop below the other?
  • Is one or both of your feet flat-footed, not supporting the curves of your spine?

These providers can offer you gentle stretching techniques, exercises and physiotherapies for your pain relief. Local state boards can provide the names and locations of nearby licensed physical therapists and chiropractors.

Acupuncture research has shown that this treatment can be more effective for you than NSAIDs. Related therapies like cupping, Gua Sha, Chinese herbs and moxa can reduce your pain as well. Licensed providers have national licenses and you can find them online.

If the pain continues for 4-6 weeks, an MD will do an examination, tests and imaging (e.g. x-rays, MRI) to determine the cause. 

They often prescribe muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine or baclofen. These can have side effects of fatigue and dizziness.

Topical pain medications usually come in the form of creams, ointments and gels. They can be used on the skin for temporary pain relief.

If more conservative methods fail, your doctor may recommend an injection. Cortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory. In the  short term. These shots are often effective for reducing your pain.

But you are limited to how many you can take a year. Long term, these shots can affect thinning of your bone near the shot and only last a few months. And they are a temporary fix if you have a herniated disc.

How To Relieve Herniated Disc Pain  

You feel electric, burning pain in the lower back and down your leg. You stop in your tracks and drop to the floor. The pain is unbearable.

You can’t sleep. Whether moving or lying still, you feel the “burn” – in a bad way. Changing positions may help you. But it’s only temporary. 

Even prescription medications don’t help for long. If at all.

Herniated disc pain requires intervention. The pain is not determined by the size of the herniation. The pain depends on where the herniation is in relation to the nerve. 

You may be treated with an anti-inflammatory treatment including cortisone shots.  This can reduce the effects of the herniation and reduce the pain. 

Sometimes herniations reduce with conservative spinal care like physical therapy or chiropractic care.  Sometimes they disappear on their own. 

When prior care doesn’t stop this type of pain, surgery may be the next option.

Do You Need Surgery For Your Lower Back Pain?

People often ask this question. The answer?

It depends.

Most back pain is acute and gradually improves with home treatment and self-care, Usually within a few weeks. Even chronic pain rarely requires surgery.

In some cases, though, your lower back pain can signal a more serious medical issue.

Is your lower back pain getting worse? Do you get pain more frequently?

Are you noticing changes in your bowel of bladder problems? Or getting numbness or pain in your legs?

Do you have a fever? Or unexplained weight loss?

If yes, see your doctor now.

Other reasons to seek care  include getting lower back pain for the first time after 50. Or if you have a history of cancer, osteoporosis, excessive steroid or alcohol/drug use.

Take Your Next Steps To Relieve Lower Back Pain

So it isn’t a question of can you relieve your lower back pain. It’s really a question of how can you relieve your lower back pain.

You do not need to suffer. You can stop the pain. And lessen your frustration, anxiety  and despair. 

Recent pain is often quick to heal. And there are many cost-effective, self care options you can choose from to help you.

You also have control over making life-style changes. This includes altering your habits to address both your physical and mental health.

Chronic pain or enduring disease can be treated at home.  And combined with help from a professional when needed.

Reduce your pain and suffering.  And return to living your life – pain free.      


Pat Casello-Maddox is an SEO focused copy, content and case study specialist living in Minneapolis. She writes for B2B and B2C health, wellness and personal development daily success markets.