FIRST AID for Back Injuries

“I’ve just hurt my back? What do I do?”


The following is a quick reference for what to do when you get hurt, but does not detail management of open, bleeding wounds or dislocations. For that, go to your nearest medical centre or hospital.


Important: If you have lost control of your bladder or bowel, you have lost all feeling and strength in your legs or are losing consciousness, get to a hospital ASAP.



Treating an acute injury of your back involves the same procedure as any other acute injury, namely:



R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)

Lets look at these individually-



Rest means that you should stop doing whatever activity it is that caused your injury. Sounds straight forward, but how many times have you insisted on finishing what you started, when you first felt a small niggle, brushing it off as something minor, or “just a muscle spasm”. Tomorrow however you find you can’t get out of bed. Sound familiar?


Learning to understand what your body is trying to tell you is a challenge most of us are not very good at. And when we do manage to figure it out, most of the time we ignore it anyway and keep on doing what we want to. Understand that you are not made of stainless steel and will ALWAYS pay in the end. Back off and give it a rest. In fact it can take almost as long for soft tissue injuries to heal as fractures (i.e. 6 – 8 weeks!), so don’t think that just because it feels better the next day, that everything is fine. It can take 2 or 3 days for swelling to peak so that you can actually feel worse on day 3 or 4 than you do on day 1.



This is very important so listen up!


NEVER put a hot pack, hot creams, heat lamp, (did I mention hot pack) on an acute injury. ALWAYS put an ICEPACK on it….ALWAYS! 


“Acute Injury” means anything that has happened within the last 3 days, even if it is an exacerbation of an otherwise chronic problem. Usually the symptoms will be sharp, nasty, very restrictive- pinching, stabbing or catching in nature, there may be swelling and redness (but that may not always be obvious). It will often alter your posture into a defensive position that hurts to move or challenge.


The way to apply ice is 10 minutes on and then take it off for 10 minutes, allowing the area to return to a reasonable skin temperature. Repeat 2 or 3 times every few hours. Leaving ice on for more than 15-20 minutes can chill the area too deeply and cause your brain to increase the blood flow rather than decrease it. SO the rule is ON and OFF alternately every 10 minutes or so.


What about a nice massage? Massaging an acute injury or putting on a hot pack may feel comforting, but remember that both of those activities are bringing blood and fluid into the injury site. Since it is often difficult to establish early on how bad an injury is, breaking up a defensive spasm with massage can leave you open to instability and greater injury, while a hot pack just draws in more fluid to get rid of later. It is always better to pay for a Chiropractic or Physiotherapy assessment than that of a Massage Therapist. Basically it boils down to the difference in training and qualifications.


Summary: I don’t care if heat feels nice. Put an ice pack on instead! Do it every few hours if possible.




Traditionally the term compression is used for dealing with obvious swollen sprains such as an ankle or knee, where the instability created by a tear should be secured and supported by a bandage or elastic guard. Additionally, these would also limit excessive swelling from building up by virtue of the pressure they exert, so that there is less swelling to get rid of later.


Large areas such as the upper back may not always be conducive to the application of compression, but in the low back, an elastic support belt, with sewn-in stays (vertical plastic strips) can help provide comfort and support to an injured back. A pelvis sprain can similarly be supported by a Sacro-Iliac support belt. Wear these as long as necessary during the acute phase of your injury to help control your pain, but do take them off occasionally, especially when lying down.




Like Compression, elevation is not always practical in back injuries, and traditionally is referred to elevation of limbs, so that by raising a swollen ankle for example, excess fluid can be encouraged to drain from the injury site, facilitating a faster recovery. In spinal injuries this basically means you should take gravity out of the equation, in other words, get the weight off your injury and preferably lie down when you can.



Some additional considerations…


  • Sitting or standing in one place usually increases the stress on a back injury. Lie down when you can, go for short walks of no more than 15 minutes, but if you must sit, prop your self up with pillows and don’t slouch.
  • Sleeping is often uncomfortable with back injuries, so to minimise stress on your back, put a pillow behind your knees when sleeping on your back, and between your knees when on your side.
  • If you are in a lot of pain, Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Nurofen, Voltaren or Panadol/Panadeine) may provide some temporary relief. However be careful of side-effects and try not to take them before coming into the clinic as they will mask your symptoms and make it difficult to assess you properly. Chiropractors often prefer patients not to use drugs- one reason is that they can give you a false sense of security so you end up hurting yourself even more. They can also promote drug dependent behaviour rather than encourage rehabilitation and self care.
  • If after a couple of days you have not noticed any improvement, then you should phone the clinic and come in ASAP.
  • If you have sciatica (pain down the back of your leg), pins and needles or numbness, you should phone the clinic and come in immediately.
  • If sitting on the toilet and pushing “number two” hurts, or coughing or sneezing hurts, phone the clinic and come in immediately.



What else can I do to help myself?


Besides basic First Aid procedures, extension and decompressive exercises have been shown to be of clinical use in managing acute back pain. Please visit our page Exercises for acute back pain and try some of the exercises, being careful work gently and stop if you feel your back pain worsen.


There are also alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs on the market, and these are largely in the form of Homoeopathic remedies and herbal formulas. Some clinical trials have been done on both of these choices, and the results have been positive, with none of the side effects commonly observed in painkillers. Consequently we stock both herbal and Homoeopathic pain remedies. Call the clinic on 9822 0588 for details and pricing.


Supplements such as a Vitamin B complex, bioavailable high potency magnesium, fish oil and glucosamine supplements can also help to control inflammation, pain, muscle spasms and nerve irritation. The clinic stocks only high quality supplements that are professional strength and not available in health food stores.


  • Facebook