Acute low back pain

Acute LBP is the medical term used for the intense low back pain which some individuals may experience. It is not associated with pain radiating in to the leg (sciatica).

Studies have shown that over 80% of people will suffer from at least one episode of low back pain (LBP) at some point in their adult life.

There can be many causes for acute LBP. However, the intense pain, stiffness and locked feeling that individuals may experience is often the result of muscle spasm rather than being directly related to the extent of injury to a disc or surrounding tissues.

Intense pain across the lower lumbar spine. The onset of pain is normally felt suddenly during innocuous movements such as bending towards the floor, lifting or carrying light items or first thing in the morning when getting out of bed.

Initially, you may be unable to fully straighten your spine and there may be a significant loss of movement when flexing forwards.

Returning to normal activities and gentle exercises has been shown improve these symptoms at a faster rate than rest.

Acute LBP can be reliably diagnosed by your doctor or physiotherapist by taking a history of your condition. In some circumstances it may be necessary to conduct a physical examination but this is usually not necessary in uncomplicated LBP.

X-rays and scans are not routinely required and are generally unhelpful as it will not change the appropriate management plan.

Acute phase management

Acute phase management is aimed at alleviating pain to allow rehabilitation to commence as early as possible following injury.

The following self-help videos explain some measures which should reduce pain and increase the movement you have in your lower spine:

Heat treatment

Pain relieving position

Gentle range of movement exercise

Using painkillers when needed

Over-the-counter analgesia is available through pharmacies when needed. Paracetamol is most commonly prescribed. Anti-inflammatories, such as Ibuprofen, are also used, but as there is little or no inflammation involved in osteoarthritis these are best avoided without discussing with your GP. Side effects are even more common than with paracetamol so please ensure to take appropriate medical advice. There is a good booklet on the Arthritis Research UK website with information about the various drug options. Click here to view.

Ongoing management


Specific exercises to relieve any stiffness in the spine and maintain flexibility at the hips:

5×30 second holds, 2x per day

10-20 repetitions 2x per day

5×30 second holds, 2x per day

Modifying ergonomics

Modifications include raising your seat height, changing the back-rest angle, lumbar wedges as well as ensuring there is an appropriate overall set up if working with display screen equipment. Everyone is different so try out slightly different combinations which may work best for you.

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