Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(10):1504

See related article on low back pain.

What should I do if I have low back pain at work?

Tell your supervisor right away, and see your doctor as soon as possible. Treatment usually consists of cold or heat therapy, pain medicine, and exercise. Keep your employer and your doctor informed about your condition and work status.

How long should the pain last?

Low back pain is a common problem, but it usually is not serious. You will probably start to feel better within two weeks. You should feel much better after four weeks.

What activities can I do?

Try to keep doing the things you normally do. You should not stay in bed for more than two days. Stretching and mild aerobic exercise (such as walking and swimming) can prevent stiffness and help you get better faster. You should slowly increase how much exercise you do. Exercise can help keep low back pain from coming back.

Will going back to work make the pain worse?

Working can cause discomfort in your lower back, but this is not harmful. If you can't do your regular job duties, ask your supervisor if you can do different work until you get better.

Do I have to be pain-free to go back to work?

No. Low back pain usually gets better after you return to work. Work can help you get better and is an important part of treatment.

Can the pain come back after I return to work?

Yes. But this does not necessarily mean that work causes low back pain. In many people with low back pain, the pain can come back within one year whether or not they change their normal activities.

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