Back injuries

Back problems are very common and can be caused by staying in one position too long or lifting something awkwardly.

Most back problems start for no obvious reason, which can be very frustrating. The spine is strong and back problems are rarely due to any serious disease or damage. 

Your back problem may cause hot, burning, shooting, or stabbing pains in your back and sometimes into one or both of your legs. You may also get pins and needles. These can be due to nerve pain.

You'll not normally need an X-ray or an MRI scan.

Most back problems settle within 6 weeks

Keeping active

Keeping active is an essential part of your treatment and recovery and is the single best thing you can do for your health.

Being physically active throughout your recovery can:

  • prevent a recurrence of the problem
  • maintain your current levels of fitness – even if you have to modify what you normally do, any activity is better than none
  • keep your other muscles and joints strong and flexible
  • prevent weight gain

More about keeping active

Resting or moving?

After a back injury you should:

  • keep moving, even if you move slowly at first
  • do whatever you normally would and stay at, or return to work - this is important and is the best way to get better
  • change positions regularly wherever you are - try to find a position that reduces any pains you may have in your back and/or leg(s)
  • try to stay active, but remember not to carry out activities which aggravate any pain you may have in your back and/or leg(s) - exercising really helps your back and can relieve pain

Try not to sit down or rest for too long. Resting in bed doesn't help back pain.

What about sports?

You should take your time before taking part in any sports after a back problem.

If you take part in sports too soon you could be injured again. You should only take part in sports when you can move freely. Be prepared, however, for slight discomfort at first.

Remember to stretch and warm up fully before sports.

Can my back problem cause trouble anywhere else?

Your back problem may cause hot, burning, shooting, or stabbing pains into one or both of your legs (sometimes called sciatica). You may also get pins and needles - this can be due to nerve pain.

If you have these for more than a week, you may be able to take other, more appropriate medication. You should speak to your doctor about this.

Do I need to see my doctor?

You don't normally need to see your GP if you follow the right advice and take the right medication.

Your back problem should improve over the next 6 weeks.

If you experience any of the following, phone the NHS 24 111 service as soon as possible:

  • Difficulty passing or controlling urine
  • Numbness or altered feeling around your back passage or genitals - such as wiping after toilet
  • Pins and needles around your back passage or genitals - such as wiping after toilet

If you experience any of the following, you should speak to your GP as soon as possible:

  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Back pain that starts when you are ill with other problems - such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer
  • Numbness, pins and needles, or weakness in one or both legs that has not improved after a week
  • Unsteadiness when you walk
  • Your back problem has not improved within 6 weeks

Find your nearest GP practice

Musculoskeletal (MSK) Helpline

If you have a back problem, the Musculoskeletal Advice and Triage Service (MATS) can provide information and advice to help with your problem, and refer you to a healthcare professional if you need it.
How to contact