Treating back pain

Lumbago describes pain which is located in the lower part of the spine, most often known as “low back pain”. The pain is often accompanied by stiffness, limiting the back’s range of movement. The pain is often more severe on one side of the back, the left or right, but can spread throughout the lower back. Lumbago may also lead to pain in one of the legs, therefore indicating “lumbosciatica”.

Low back pain is a common problem, which often goes away by itself, sometimes even without treatment. “Lumbago” is often caused by tense muscles and tendons in the lower part of the back.

Unless the pain lasts for several weeks or is experienced along with serious symptoms, medical imaging is not required.


Low back pain may have different causes. Fortunately, most of them are not serious. “Lumbago” tends to be the result of muscles and ligaments in the spine malfunctioning. It is easier to understand how low back pain works by comparing it with a sprained ankle as the result of someone “twisting” their foot. Low back pain is often caused by a problem in the muscles or ligaments in the back.

Sometimes we can identify an improper movement or carrying a heavy weight as the cause of the pain, but this is not always the case.


Low back pain often goes away within one to four weeks. Pain relief medicine can help to reduce symptoms. This usually includes paracetamol (Panadol, Dafagan, etc.), occasionally taken along with anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen (Irfen, Algifor, etc.). If the pain is intense, medicine combining paracetamol and codeine can be taken.

Along with medicine, it is very important to keep active, depending on the pain of course: a person who remains physically active will recover quicker than someone who stays seated or lies down all day.

If the pain does not improve after 7 to 10 days, physiotherapy may be suggested.

After suffering from your first episode of low back pain, regularly practising endurance sport will reduce the risk of it happening again (walking, nordic walking, swimming, cycling, etc.).


In some cases, you should visit your general practitioner quickly or, if that is not possible, Accident & Emergency. This is particularly important if you also experience a fever, unexplained weight loss, a considerable change in your general health or if the pain doesn’t improve with medicine. A medical visit is also recommended if you lose sensation or strength in one leg or for osteoporosis or cancer patients.

For further information

You can find further information on the Common low back pain (acute, subacute and chronic) page on the Planète santé website and on the website. RTS’s 36.9 programme also dedicated a show to back pain: Métro, boulot, mal au dos.


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