Stretching and At-Home Treatments

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems. It typically improves with rest and at-home treatments, but when it doesn’t, see a doctor.

Ice eases swelling and numbs the area, while heat relaxes muscles and increases blood flow to relieve pain. Try an ice pack, frozen vegetables or a roll-on product like Biofreeze.


Stretching is a natural pain reliever that can help alleviate back and neck pain. It improves spine mobility and flexibility to prevent and treat back injuries and chronic back problems such as sciatica, says Carina Abrams, a physical therapist at Sutter Physical and Hand Therapy in Davis, California. Stretches are especially effective for preventing and decreasing back pain caused by sitting for prolonged periods of time.

The good news is that you can do these stretches at home, without a gym membership or equipment. Just make sure to move gently and carefully through each exercise, and don't push yourself past your comfort level. Always stop the activity if you feel any pain or discomfort, and consult with your doctor before starting a new stretching program.

Begin the lumbar extension by lying on your back with your knees bent. Slowly rotate your knees from side to side so that you feel a stretch in your lower back and stomach muscles. Hold the stretch for 3 to 5 seconds in each direction, then repeat 10 to 15 times.

The shoulder flexion stretch is a great way to improve your posture. Stand with your feet together and then bend at the waist to pull your shoulders forward toward one another until you feel a stretch in the front of your chest and upper back. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch legs.

This is a simple but effective stretch to help relieve lower back pain. Lie down on your back with your knees bent and slide your right leg up behind you so that it's resting on the outside of your left hip. Use your hands to hold the leg in place, then gently stretch into the back of your knee.

This is a simple but effective stretch to relieve low back pain, including tightness in your lower back and glutes. It helps you to maintain a neutral spine, which is important for avoiding back pain, says Rami Hashish, Ph.D., body performance and injury expert. Lie down on your back with your feet flat on the floor, and bend your knees to bring your right knee into your chest. Using your hands to hold the knee in place, slowly stretch into the back of your knee until you feel a stretch in your lower back, erector spinae and glutes.


Historically doctors would prescribe bed rest for back pain, but research shows that sitting or lying still can make the problem worse and lead to other complications. Getting up and moving around can help reduce pain and stiffness, and strengthen the muscles that support the spine. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program or get a referral to a physical therapist who can develop one for you.

A good starting point is to do dynamic exercises, such as marching in place and arm circles, to warm up the muscles. Then do static stretches that involve holding a position for 60 seconds, such as the tree pose (stand with your hands on your hips and lift your knees to meet in front of you), and the bird dog pose (lean on one hand and stretch the other leg behind you, keeping it parallel with the floor).

You can also try yoga, which improves balance and strength, and incorporates breathing techniques. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing, in which you breathe into your belly, helps to slow down the muscles that send pain signals to the brain.

One of the best ways to ease back pain is with massage, which relaxes the muscles and relieves stiffness. But a single session does not last, so a regular routine is important to relieve pain and prevent it from returning.

Another hands-on approach is spinal manipulation, which loosens tight muscles in the back and restores joint mobility. This type of treatment is available from chiropractors and some physical therapists.

As you become more accustomed to moving and stretching, you can increase your workouts to keep the muscles in your back strong. If you start to feel that the exercise is causing back pain, stop and do something else for a few days. Then slowly reintroduce the exercise again, but don't push too hard or you may aggravate the injury. If the exercise doesn't relieve your back pain, talk to your doctor or spine physical therapist about a different strategy. The goal is to find a combination of treatments that provides back pain relief 4 life.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Whether it's a dull ache that nags at you or a sharp pain that shoots through your back when you move, the spine is crucial to life. It provides the structure to hold you up, flex and bear weight as you walk, run, play sports and work. It also protects the spinal cord that sends and receives nerve signals throughout the body.

A common treatment for back pain is an over-the-counter medication that reduces inflammation or blocks the sensation of pain. These are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen, and acetaminophen. The NSAIDs block the production of prostaglandins, chemicals that cause pain and inflammation. Acetaminophen also relieves pain but doesn't have the inflammatory properties of NSAIDs, and it's less likely to cause stomach problems such as ulcers.

Another way to relieve back pain is with heat or cold treatments. Applying a hot or cold pack to the back can relax tight muscles, increase blood flow and decrease swelling and inflammation. Hot and cold therapy is an old standby that can be effective.

Stretching exercises are another way to get relief from back pain. These techniques loosen tense muscles, encourage good posture and help prevent future back problems. Stretches to ease back pain include Cobra Pose, where a person lies on their stomach with hands face down beside the shoulders; Cat-Cow Pose, which involves starting on the hands and knees and slowly alternating arching and dipping the back; and Child's Pose, sitting on the heels with legs hip-width apart.

If home remedies don't ease the pain, a doctor can prescribe stronger, prescription-only painkillers called opioids. These drugs reduce the sensation of pain by blocking certain parts of the brain. There are many varieties of opioids, ranging from the strongest, morphine, to weaker ones such as tramadol.

For more serious or chronic back pain, a doctor may recommend surgery. Surgical procedures that can help ease or eliminate back pain include laminectomy, discectomy and vertebroplasty. In some cases, an electric current is used to reduce the pain by numbing the nerves. Radiofrequency ablation is another option, where a needle is inserted near the source of the pain and radio waves are delivered through it to block pain signals.

See Your Doctor

If your back pain hasn't gone away with time and self-care, it's a good idea to visit a doctor. A doctor can diagnose the underlying cause of your back pain and offer treatment options, whether nonsurgical or surgical.

To get a proper diagnosis, your doctor will want to know as much about your back pain as possible. They'll ask you to describe how your pain feels and when it happens. They'll also ask you about any activities that seem to make your pain worse or better. For instance, if your back pain is relieved when you walk or lie down, this will help them understand the problem.

Your doctor will also need to run some tests to determine the underlying cause of your back pain. They may order an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to see if your back has a bone or muscle problem that could be causing your pain. They may also perform electrophysiological tests on your muscles to check for nerve problems or a spinal infection such as vertebral osteomyelitis or meningitis. They may also run blood tests to identify other possible causes of your back pain, such as inflammatory disorders or medical conditions such as diabetes.

Depending on the results of your tests, your doctor will recommend an appropriate treatment plan. They might recommend a combination of over-the-counter pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medications and/or muscle relaxants. They may prescribe stronger analgesics or even surgery in severe cases.

You might consider acupuncture or chiropractic as well. These treatments might not alleviate your pain completely, but they can ease your pain and increase the effectiveness of your other treatment methods.

If your back pain is accompanied by symptoms such as numbness or weakness, you should visit your doctor right away because this may be a sign of a serious medical condition. A spinal infection or herniated disc could be causing these problems, and it's best to address them as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage. If your back pain extends into your buttocks and down one leg, this could be a sign of sciatica, which is usually caused by a pinched nerve in the lower spine.