This text is replaced by the Flash movie.




Most people suffer from back pain at some time during their lives. Back pain ranges from a mild ache to agonising pain, and is usually due to injury of joints, discs, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones or referred from underlying organs. Our upright posture puts additional stress on the neck and lower back, which are the commonest sites of back pain.

Back pain may be sharp and come on suddenly, or it may develop gradually over several hours. There are many treatment options, and most people will recover within a few weeks.



What causes back pain?

Underlying causes of back pain include conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, infection, tumours, peptic ulcers, emotional tension or stress, menstrual and pregnancy problems, gallstones lodged in the bile duct, pancreatitis, injury to the disc, pinching of the sciatic nerves (sciatica), abnormal curvature of the spine, spinal degeneration and disorders of the urinary system.

Injuries, muscle strain and sprains can be caused by strenuous movement (lifting, digging, twisting the torso), or there may be no obvious cause. Bad posture, weak stomach muscles, sleeping on a soft bed, carrying too much weight, flat feet and unequal leg length are other factors that may be contributors to the development of back pain.


When should I see the doctor?

You should consult a health professional whenever you have back pain that is severe enough to prevent normal activity, or is accompanied by leg weakness, bladder or bowel function disturbance, fever or a headache. Acute back pain caused by sprains and strains will normally get better as the injury heals. By remaining active and taking pain relievers as prescribed, you should be pain-free within two to four weeks.

Early treatment often speeds recovery, and your health professional will recommend exercises and correct posture to prevent or reduce further episodes of back pain. Very few back problems are serious enough to warrant surgery.


What is the treatment?

Health professionals normally suggest resuming daily activities as soon as you can manage it without excessive pain – bed rest for more than 48 hours is not recommended.  Applying ice followed by a heated pad can be soothing in the initial stages. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and diclofenac or a combination of Paracetamol 500mg + Ibuprofen 150mg can provide very effective pain relief during the healing period.

A topical cream containing capsaicin (an extract from chilli peppers), may provide effective pain relief if used regularly. 

Other topical treatments such as analgesic creams, anti-inflammatory creams and rubs can also help to relieve pain.

More severe pain may require short-term use of opioid pain relievers like codeine or tramadol. Long term use of opioids is not recommended as they almost always cause constipation and there have been concerns expressed about possible unintentional addiction.

Other treatment options include visiting a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath, and, if there is a known cause of injury, these visits may be subsidised by ACC. Massage can also help as the injury heals, and you should follow an exercise programme designed to prevent further injury -  as suggested by your health professional. 



More information

Find out how to make a claim, how to prevent injuries and more.


EMedicine Health
Comprehensive information about the causes of back pain and different treatment options.



Any medical information in this website is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, it is of a general nature only.  Please consult with a health care professional if you have a specific problem. 


This website contains links to external websites.  In no event shall we be responsible for the content, accuracy or opinions expressed in these websites.  We take no responsibility for mistakes or deficiencies in this website.  We exclude liability for any direct, indirect of consequential loss or damage of any kind incurred by any user of this website.