Health Library Content

How to Recover From a Back Injury

Back pain is something you don't want to repeat. Recovering properly from a back injury and taking preventive measures can help you reduce your risk of going through it again.

Note your symptoms

Minor back pain often resolves itself within a few days to a few weeks. If your pain persists, however, talk to an orthopedic surgeon or your family doctor. He or she will examine you, note how your body moves, and take a medical history.

Make sure you mention all your symptoms to your doctor, such as whether a fever or nausea accompanied your back pain, if you have pain down your leg, weakness or loss of bowel or bladder. The pain may be secondary to another condition.

Many back problems are caused by a muscle pull or strain. The usual treatment includes taking pain relievers and/or muscle relaxants and, perhaps, limiting certain activities until the muscle heals.

Consider your options

For more serious back injuries, such as a herniated or ruptured disk or a pinched nerve, surgery may be necessary.

But, surprisingly, most disk injuries heal themselves without surgery. The only reason to have emergency back surgery is when the pain is accompanied by severe or progressive motor weakness or involves bowel or bladder problems. In these cases, it's crucial to relieve pressure from the nerves in order to retain their function.

If your pain is severe and persistent, your doctor may suggest diagnostic tests, such as an MRI or CT scan.

Recover carefully

If you have surgery, your recovery regimen begins with wound healing, which takes about two weeks. During that time, you need to be careful. After that, ask your doctor about beginning a progressive walking program to promote muscle strength.

Walk short distances initially and make sure you don't walk so far you can't get home safely if you get tired. As your strength increases, your doctor or physical therapist will suggest you supplement your walks with gentle back exercises.

Talk to your doctor if intense pain recurs. When a disk is removed, pieces of it may remain in the back and cause problems. For the first couple of months after surgery, it's important not to lift, twist or bend, all of which could re-injure your back.

Back to exercise

The best predictor for future back pain is previous back pain so once you're on the road to recovery, the best way to ensure a healthy back is to approach activity sensibly. Lead a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, proper lifting techniques, healthy weight, avoid smoking, and proper posture. 

Back to top