Acute Back Pain:

Acute Back Pain

By Dr. Ben Kim

Do you know what it's like to have a sudden, sharp pain in your back that you know is going to lead to several days of terrible pain and stiffness? I am very familiar with this scenario from my own experiences with back pain and from my work as a chiropractor for many years.

If you know what this feels like, then you might find what I have to say next to be surprising.

The best thing that you can do for yourself as soon as you feel that familiar spasm or pull in your back muscles is the following:


No matter what you are doing - shoveling snow, carrying groceries, painting, laundry, or exercising -stop immediately and lay down on the closest comfortable surface. You want to lay down with your knees bent up so that your feet are flat on the floor, or so that your calves are resting on several pillows or on a chair. As you lay down, try to relax all of your muscles, especially the ones in your back. You can facilitate effective relaxation by taking slow, deep breaths from your tummy.

Depending on how badly you have pulled your muscles or ligaments, you can lay like this for 15 minutes or 1 hour. When you feel very relaxed, try to get up slowly, turning on your side and using your arms to help lift your upper body off the ground. Be sure to use your thigh muscles to stand up. If you feel any pain as you try to stand up, lay down again and relax some more.

Following this recommendation will significantly decrease the severity of your injury, and will have you back to normal much sooner than if you had continued on with your activities.

Here's why...

The first moment that you experience sharp pain in your back is a signal that a muscle or ligament has been stressed beyond its natural capacity. From that moment on, if the muscle or ligament in question is still being asked to work, your body will create inflammation in that area, which brings pain, stiffness, and swelling. Why does your body do this? Because pain, stiffness, and swelling are parts of a protective response that your body uses to get you to rest that area until it heals.

Can you see why popping a pain killer in this situation is not in your best interest? If you numb yourself to pain, then you'll probably continue being active, not giving your injured tissues a chance to rest and recover. This is a great way to worsen your injury and prolong your suffering. And let's not forget the negative side effects that pain killers have on your stomach, liver and kidneys.

At the first sign of sharp pain in their backs, many people choose to continue working, finding that if they stay active and warm, they don't stiffen up and they are able to remain functional for a few hours or the rest of the day. Continuing to be active after the initial injury causes your body to produce natural pain killers like endorphins, which gives you the illusion that you are fine. The problem with this is that while you are not feeling much discomfort, your injured tissues are continuously being stressed, which will increase your pain and stiffness later on that day or the next morning.

By laying down at the first twinge of back pain, you will minimize damage to your injured tissues. You will also minimize inflammation, which will lead to less pain and stiffness. Sometimes, if the injury isn't too severe and you are able to lay down right away, you might be totally fine as soon as you stand up.

Following this recommendation can mean the difference between having back pain for one hour or for one week. Please try it the next time you feel that awful pull or twinge in your back.

Note: some people make a trip to a physical therapist, chiropractor, or massage therapist right after injuring their backs. Unless your injury is causing you to lose control over your urine flow and bowel movements, I highly recommend that you first try my suggestion.


Think about all of the stress that your back faces in going for treatment. You have to get into your car, make the drive to the office, get out of the car, sit in the waiting room, get up onto the treatment table, and all of the above in reverse. Believe me, in most cases, it is far more beneficial to lay down on your living room floor for an hour than to put your back through all of these steps. And your floor is free.

If you still have pain or stiffness after resting right after your injury and do not experience gradual improvement over the next few days, that might be a good time to visit a practitioner who can provide treatment that will hopefully help your injured tissues heal properly. More on choosing a good practitioner in a future article.

Dr. Ben KimImprove Your Health With Our Free E-mail Newsletter

Join thousands of people from all over the world who receive our natural health newsletter.

  • 100% free. You can unsubscribe anytime.
  • No spam. We respect and protect your privacy at all times.
  • Valuable information that you can use to improve the quality of your health and life.
First Name:


Just a note to let you know how much I appreciate your newsletter. As a fellow health care provider (optometrist) and medical researcher, I find your distillation of the literature into lay terms to be accurate and very understandable. I really enjoyed your contribution regarding macular degeneration. Keep up the good work. - Kristine Erickson, OD, PhD, FAAO

I get a lot of e-mailed newsletters and yours is the only one I read thoroughly from top to bottom. Your advice is enlightening, educational, easy to follow and it works! Thank you so much for all that you offer. - Lisa Abramovic

Thanks for your excellent health newsletter. I look forward to it every week. Thanks for providing the best online health resource I have found. - Anonymous

I'm sure as a doctor you hear your share of complaints. I just thought you'd like to know that there's at least one person in your "e-audience" that appreciates the time and effort you put into sending the emails. I really look forward to them. - Linda H., Raleigh, North Carolina

Many of my adult ESL students are Korean, and enjoy bits and pieces from your newsletter that I have shared with them. In addition to your logical approach to health, I enjoy sharing your newsletter because your English is unfailingly correct as well as easily understood. Thank you for your beautiful approach to life. - J. Zetterstrom

I thank you and your staff for such a great website. I am former National Level Bodybuilder so I know a thing or two about health and fitness. Your site is very valuable and I do my best to pass it on to friends and people I train. It is also a helpful resource in my career as a human service provider working with clients who need to recover from substance abuse. I believe a major part of recovery is getting your body and mind feeling healthy and strong. Thank you again! Great Website! - Michael Christopher, MSW

I truly appreciate your wonderful newsletter - your balanced and professional way of looking at issues is so helpful! - Erica H.

First Name:

Disclaimer: Throughout this entire website, statements are made pertaining to the properties and/or functions of food and/or nutritional products. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and these materials and products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.