Acute back pain: what is the best thing to do?

Acute back pain is short-term back pain that disappears on its own within a few weeks. Usually it is not serious, treatment is not necessary and you should try to carry out your normal daily activities as much as possible. If you want to rest, don’t do this for more than two days. It is important to keep moving as much as possible and to rebuild your activities. Use painkillers if necessary and in some cases medical fitness or physiotherapy is recommended.

The complaints

Acute back pain often develops suddenly and usually disappears on its own within a few weeks. It is often caused by a sudden movement, for example by lifting something or twisting your back during exercise. It can also develop gradually, for example due to incorrect working posture. The pain can be very severe and hinder you considerably. The pain is usually located in the lower back and can radiate to your buttocks, legs or feet. Bending over or lifting something hurts and you would prefer not to do this. The muscles are often stiff in the morning and as you get going, the stiffness will decrease.


In most cases, acute back pain goes away on its own. The complaints disappeared again within a few weeks. After a few days the worst pain will decrease again and will gradually diminish. Complaints such as stiffness or muscle pain may last a little longer. Although there are no treatments to cure acute back pain, there are some things you can do to aid recovery.

Take it easy for the first few days

When you’re in tremendous pain, all you want to do is take it easy. Usually after a few days it has recovered to such an extent that you can move again. Try to keep moving in the first few days, even if it hurts. Staying in bed and doing nothing at all is counterproductive. If the severe pain persists after a few days, go to the doctor to see if there is anything serious going on.

Rebuild your activities

Try to move again as quickly as possible and build up carefully. The pain you feel does not get worse with movement. Take it step by step and make a timetable if necessary. For example, you can set walking as an activity and increase it by five minutes every day. After a few weeks, try to return to normal activities such as your household and work. If necessary, build up your work by starting with half days and then full days again after two weeks. It also depends on the type of work you do.


Sometimes a physiotherapist can help you build up your activities. A Mensendieck or Cesar exercise therapist can also provide help with this. A physiotherapist is often called in if you are unable to increase your activities yourself or if the complaints still persist after more than six weeks. You will usually be given exercises that will allow you to expand your movements again. Some people are referred to a manual therapist. It also depends on the type of complaints you have which therapist is best.

Medical fitness

Gyms sometimes offer medical fitness. This is fitness under the supervision of a physiotherapist, where you receive a training schedule that is specially adapted to you. It takes your complaints into account and is aimed at addressing these complaints. Medical fitness is sometimes also offered by physiotherapy practices.


If you experience severe pain during the first few days, you can take painkillers. They do not ensure recovery, but they do ensure that you are able to move again. Exercise promotes your recovery. Paracetamol is the first recommended remedy. If this does not help enough, you can be prescribed an NSAID by your doctor. The painkillers included here have a stronger effect than paracetamol, but also a greater risk of side effects, especially stomach complaints and nausea.

Full recovery

Usually the back problems have almost disappeared after four to six weeks and you are able to do everything again. Sometimes there is still a little pain, but it does not prevent you from moving. Don’t be distracted by the pain and do everything as before after six weeks. The pain you feel during this period will not cause damage to your back. Exercise ensures that you fully recover.

When to go to the doctor?

If your back hurts, you may be afraid that your back is damaged. Many people think there is a hernia. In almost all cases this is not the case. If you can no longer perform your work (properly) due to back pain, make an appointment with your company doctor. You can also go there if there is no absenteeism yet. It is wise to consult a doctor in the following cases:

  • If your pain radiates to your leg or if you have loss of strength (indication of a hernia)
  • If you’re worried about whether it’s serious
  • If the worst pain persists after a week
  • If you become less and less active instead of more active
  • If you have not made any progress with building up activities after three weeks
  • If after six weeks you are still not as active as before

read more

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