Acute Low Back Pain

| Posted On Mar 09, 2011 | By:
Kyle Coffey, Physical Therapist

Kyle Coffey, PT, DPT

Given the harsh winter we’ve experienced this year with lots of snow removal and ice chipping, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen an increase in the number of people experiencing acute low back pain.  Don’t jump to the conclusion, however, that if you’ve hurt your back you’re automatically facing surgery and months of recovery: the good news is that acute low back pain should go away relatively quickly and can usually be treated at home.

Acute low back pain is caused by some sort of trauma – bending and twisting the wrong way, lifting something too heavy, a sports injury, work around the house or in the garden, or a sudden jolt such as a car accident – or by a medical problem such as arthritis or a disc herniation.

The term “acute” refers not to the type or severity of the pain (although that can be intense!) but rather the duration:  most people who suffer from acute low back pain see their pain subside within a few weeks, and usually no more than 12 weeks.

Symptoms may range from muscle achiness to shooting or stabbing pain, limited flexibility and/or range of motion, or an inability to stand straight. Occasionally, pain felt in one part of the body may “radiate” to other parts of the body – pain can sometimes be felt in the lower extremities with acute low back pain. 

Depending on the severity or duration of the low back pain you’re experiencing, you may wish to see your doctor.  After a thorough exam, he or she may prescribe medications to help reduce pain and/or inflammation.  And you should always go see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

Many cases of acute low back pain can be treated at home, however.  No one treatment works well for everyone, so you should try a few to see what works best for you.  Here are some guidelines and suggestions for at-home treatment:

General exercises for acute low back painWhile your back heals, there are certain activities that will prove more challenging and should be approached with caution.  These include:

We all know the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  It’s never more true as it applies to your back – there is a lot you can do!  Overall healthy lifestyle habits such as exercising regularly, controlling your weight, eliminating smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, and reducing stress can help.  Always stretch prior to exercising or performing other strenuous activities.  Be aware of “body mechanics”: lift objects from the legs, not the back.  How you “hold” your body can make a big difference, too: maintain good posture when walking, standing, or sitting (especially in the car when you can tense up while driving) and sleep on your side if possible.  Make sure to check that your mattress has the proper support and is not sagging, and sit in chairs with good lumbar support. 

For more tips and information from Harvard Vanguard, please visit our website. 


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About Kyle Coffey, PT, DPT

Kyle Coffey PT, DPT is a registered physical therapist and holds a license from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Kyle works at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates at the Chelmsford location. He obtained his Doctorate of Physical Therapy and a bachelor of science in Exercise Physiology with a minor in nutrition from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association, both the national and state of Massachusetts chapters, as well as the Orthopedic chapter. His professional interests include orthopedic and sports medicine, functional strengthening, the effects of posture on back pain, and computer ergonomics and work assessment.


  1. Your article hit home for me. I’m currently a Group Fitness Leader and have been for more than 25 years. I’ve been diagnosed with a degenerative disc at C5 & 6. The symptoms re-occur depending on what I’ve done. But I know to back off (from workouts).

    I also experience low-back pain/symptoms. Arthritis is most likely a cause. However, I get “psiatica like symptoms, where pain travels down my left leg and causes numbness under my left foot. The numbness comes on when I’m working out (running or step class) and as I continue exercising the numbness goes away.

    I wake up always feeling like a truck hit me (just an expression!). Everything hurts. I also have arthritis in my knees. I thought exercise was good for you, and I dont’ dare stop. But my body is telling me something (at age 57).

    Should I see a doctor about my low back? I’m considering a sping specialist. What do you think?

    Thank you for your time.

    Comment by Rhea Pantazopoulos on April 16, 2011 at 8:04 am
  2. Kyle guided me through some tough times with a ruptured disk and brought me great relief! Really knows his field. Thanks

    Comment by Peter L on April 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm
  3. Very helpful information. Liked the illustrations of stretching, too. Why is a bath not advised (getting into and out of the tub?) I find baths soothing on my aching back…

    Comment by Hilary Bennett on April 18, 2011 at 10:11 am
  4. I am 50 year old and was diagnosed with arthritis when I was 45. I lived in tremendous pain until I fould pilates. I have been practicing pilates for 4 years and became a certified instructor because of the success I had. I also train with Brent Anderson DPT in Miami, he uses pilates to rehabilitate his clients. He has great information on utube and his website at I highly recommend pilates for back pain, just make sure your are working with a comprehensive certified trainer whose certification is current.

    Comment by carolann kurkjian on April 19, 2011 at 3:24 pm
  5. Thanks to Kyle for addressing this very common but often debilitating problem. However, I live for the day that the medical world works hand in hand with chiropractors to alleviate back pain. I came late to this alternative therapy and wish I had been encouraged to receive chiropractic care after an accident of many years back. I now rely regularly on chiropractic adjustments to relieve the chronic pain that continues to dog me occasionally.

    Comment by Sally on April 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm
  6. Great post on what to do during occurrence of back pain. This tips will truly help other people who visits this blog and with the help of illustrations, it is much easier to do the stretching, which helps to ease the pain of the lower back muscles. Some people especially the busy ones, may seem to ignore simple back aches but at the end of the day if left untreated, will evolve to something more complicated. Please keep on posting more helpful tips, Thanks.

    Comment by Vince on February 12, 2012 at 12:34 am
  7. The information is a great help as i am having some back trouble

    Comment by Maise on February 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm
  8. Thanks for sharing this wonder full information..

    Comment by Huntington Beach Chiropractor on March 27, 2014 at 3:01 am

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