Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2009;79(12):online

See related article on chronic low back pain.

What is chronic low back pain?

Chronic low back pain is when you have pain in your lower back for longer than three months. You should talk to your doctor about ways to cope with your back pain.

How is it treated?

For most people, there is no way to completely get rid of the pain. But you can control it enough to enjoy normal activities.

Acetaminophen and an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, are the first choices. If these medicines don't help your pain, your doctor may suggest other medicines, such as tramadol (one brand: Ultram), antidepressants, or muscle relaxants. Acupuncture, exercise, manipulation of the spine, or massage may also help.

Long-term use of pain medicines called opioids, such as morphine, hydrocodone/acetaminophen, and oxycodone/acetaminophen, can lead to addiction.

Should I have surgery?

Surgery may help some people if the cause of the pain is known, but it is usually not helpful. An epidural (a shot in the lower back) may help some people with back pain that goes down into the leg.

Is there anything else I can do to help my pain?

Staying active is important. Weight loss can also help if you are overweight. Your muscles and spine are not under as much stress when you weigh less.

Living with chronic back pain is like living with any other chronic illness or condition (for example, high blood pressure). It may help to look at how you cope with the effects of back pain.

Please fill in the form below and talk to your doctor about it

  1. Pain

    On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no pain at all and 10 being the worst pain, my goal for pain is _____ out of 10.

    My current pain on average is ______ out of 10.

  2. Function

    My goal for activity is (for example, walk 15 minutes a day without stopping; go grocery shopping without help):




  3. Well-being

    My quality of life would be improved by:




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