Health / Health conditions

Is Your Back Bothering You?

Woman with back pai

If so, you’re not alone. Back pain is one of the most common medical reasons that people in the United States see a doctor or miss days at work.1 The good news is that most back pain goes away in a few weeks, with simple steps like walking and using heat.2

When you’re in pain, though, it can be hard to wait. Many of us want an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan to diagnose the problem. But research shows that people who had these tests didn’t recover faster and were much more likely to have surgery or treatments they didn’t need.2

5 tips for feeling better

While you’re waiting for your back to recover, these tips may ease your pain:

  1. Use hot or cold packs. 
    These packs can soothe sore, stiff backs. Heat increases blood supply to the back and reduces muscle spasms. Cold may reduce swelling and numb deep pain.
  2. Walk and stretch if you can.
    Many people recover faster when they are active rather than resting in bed. Just stick with gentle exercises and be careful not to push yourself. Exercising regularly can also help prevent back pain from happening again.
  3. Try over-the-counter pain relievers if needed.
    Some medicines that may work for your back pain are acetaminophen (Tylenol®), ibuprofen (Advil®), and naproxen (Aleve®). Generic versions are just as effective and may save you money. Be sure to read the label to make sure you are taking the medication safely, and talk to the pharmacist or your doctor if you’re taking other medications that may interact with the pain reliever.
  4. Think about how you work.
    If you work at a computer for most of the day, make sure your desk is set up to protect your back and joints. Compare your workstation to these examples of good working positions. If your job involves lifting, be sure to lift from your legs rather than your back, as shown in this illustration
  5. Make changes to your lifestyle if needed.
    While lifestyle changes won’t relieve your current back pain, they can help stop it from happening again. Quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and losing weight if needed can all help prevent back pain. If you’d like help making a change, you can work with a BCBSRI nurse at no cost. To learn more, please call 1-844-563-0892 or email

When to see your doctor

If your back doesn’t start feeling better in a few days or a week, give your PCP a call. As with most non-emergency issues, starting with your PCP can save you time and money. 

You should see your PCP right away if you have numbness or tingling, severe back pain that does not improve with rest, back pain after a fall or an injury, or back pain plus any of these problems: trouble urinating, weakness, numbness in your legs, fever, or weight loss when not on a diet.

1The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

2Choosing Wisely