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Frequently asked questions

What can I do to improve my back pain?

Try to keep as active as possible, and return to work as soon as you can. Take painkillers regularly rather than waiting until it is really bad. If constipation is a problem, try to improve your diet – or use a laxative – as straining can aggravate some back conditions. Try to stay positive – mood can play a big part in how well we cope with pain.

Why shouldn’t I stay in bed and rest?

Bed rest is now known not to help severe back pain, and can make it worse. You may have to take it easy for a couple of days after a back injury, but you should try to resume your normal activities as soon as you can, even if you have to take things a bit more slowly than usual.

Should I carry on working?

It really is better to carry on working if you can. If necessary discuss with your boss how your work activities or hours can be modified temporarily – until you feel better – to enable you to continue working.

Why don’t I need an X-ray?

Unless you have had pain for more than 6 weeks, and unless you have ‘red flag’ symptoms, there is no need for an X-ray, and as X-rays of the spine involve 150 times the radiation dose of a chest X-ray, it is much better to avoid unnecessary or repeated X-rays.

If a painkiller isn’t helping much, can I try something else?

If the first painkiller you are prescribed doesn’t provide enough pain relief, the message is to discuss it with your doctor so he or she can consider an alternative. Do remember though that, when you are in severe pain, it is important to take painkillers regularly so you can stay in control. Don’t exceed the prescribed dose.

Will taking a painkiller put me at risk of hurting my back more, by masking the pain so I overdo things?

No. You need to learn to pace yourself so that you do not overexert yourself, but using painkillers will enable you gradually to resume your normal daily activities and to get a reasonable night’s sleep.

How can physiotherapy help me?

Physiotherapy can help you to regain your mobility, and a physiotherapist can teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles in your back, and relaxation techniques to ease pain.

How can psychotherapy help me?

Non-physical (psychological) factors play an important role in persistent (chronic) back pain. If you have distressing back pain, a psychotherapist can help you to think more positively and to cope better with your pain – breaking the vicious cycle of uncontrolled pain causing low mood, which can make your pain feel worse.