Back Pain: The Do’s and Don’ts and Red Flags

Back pain is one of the most common reasons we go to the doctor.  The majority of back pain is caused by poor body mechanics that result in muscle strain, spasms, or disc herniation. But, there are some rare causes of back pain that can be life threatening, these are red flags:



  • Localized tender area of back accompanied by a fever 
  • Back pain with weight loss, tender to touch, and pain does not subside with rest
  • Pain and an inability to urinate or inability to hold urine, severe radiating pain,or numbness and weakness in the legs.
  • New onset of back pain in an older person

Any of the above require immediate medical attention. 

If you aren’t sure how to handle your back pain, see your primary health care provider to determine the right course of action. Pain is a sign something is wrong. Get an accurate diagnosis, and then you can decide on the treatment plan.

Unless your provider suspects there is a a serious cause to your back pain such as cancer or infection, an x-ray is not necessary.  The American College of Physicians  (ACP)  advice clinicians to order imaging studies only on a select few patients.

The best way to handle back pain is to learn how to prevent it.

Practice good body mechanics

Perform strengthening exercises 

Watch to learn the number one cause of American back pain:

Back pain is so common that 85% of us will experience it at some time, and the majority will get through the episode. It goes from acute to chronic once it has been going on for 3 months or more.


If you’re dealing with acute non red-flag pain, the worst thing is bed rest. Keep moving, but be cautious. Activity should be varied and as tolerated.  Avoid anything that causes the pain to worsen and work as quickly as possible to relieve spasms and inflammation.

If you have no contraindications, start on an over the counter pain reliever (Tylenol or Advil). Ask your pharmacist to help you choose.

Apply ice or heat periodically (use caution with heat to avoid burns) if you find it helps. 10 minutes on 3-4 x’s a day.

Change your position frequently, no prolonged sitting, standing, driving, etc.

No lifting anything greater than 10 pounds.  Think of body mechanics when you do lift.

If you are in the middle of a back pain spell, hang in there, most cases resolve anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.  You will feel better.

A word of caution: don’t use any form of narcotics or opiates for back pain. There are so many other available medications that aren’t addictive or carry the danger of death from accidental overdose.


3 thoughts on “Back Pain: The Do’s and Don’ts and Red Flags

  1. I am fortunate that I only once experienced back pain in recent memory and that was due to someone accidently pulling a chair out from under me as I sat down!

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