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What Do Primary Care Providers Recommend for Back Pain?

Back pain is the 5th most popular reason for doctor visits in the U.S. When someone is experiencing back pain, the first person they should go to is their primary care physician. They will conduct a brief examination before either prescribing treatment or referring the patient to a specialist. Though a referral is sometimes necessary, most back pain is treated through the recommendations of the primary physician and subsides within a few weeks. Some of the more common recommendations for back pain include:

Back Massage - What Do Primary Care Providers Recommend for Back Pain?

Slowing Down 

Bed rest used to be the go-to recommendation for the treatment of back pain. This was based on the belief that relieving pressure from the spine allowed it to heal. These days, however, doctors tend to prescribe common sense activity modification to avoid “disuse syndrome”. This means the individual should modify their physical activity according to their own common sense. Specifically, long periods of sitting or standing should be avoided, and transitioning between positions should be done carefully. 

Heat, Ice, and Painkillers 

Anti-inflammatories and over-the-counter pain medications are often prescribed to help treat back pain, as they will make pain levels more tolerable and may help with the problem if it’s due to swelling or inflammation in parts of the back and spine. The application of ice is also recommended for back pain caused by inflammation, though heat should be applied if muscles are stiff or sore.

Therapies and Other Treatments 

Some primary care physicians will refer patients to a chiropractor, physical therapist, or acupuncturist. While some patients preemptively choose to see a chiropractor or acupuncturist, it’s important to see a primary physician first to rule out underlying causes. Some individuals—especially in rural areas—will avoid this step, either because they think care is too far away, or because the pain prevents them from driving to a doctor. In these cases, however, there are some medical practitioners who have clinics in rural areas, and even provide at-home visits if necessary. Such professionals are fully equipped to provide initial exams, write prescriptions, and refer patients as necessary.

When dealing with back pain, moderated movement, anti-inflammatories, and heat and ice packs can provide a modicum of comfort. It is important, however, to still visit a primary physician, especially before seeing other healthcare providers. Even for housebound or rural individuals, patient-focused medical practices exist that will help where help is needed.


Rachelle Wilber is a freelance writer living in the San Diego, California area. She graduated from San Diego State University with her Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Media Studies. She tries to find an interest in all topics and themes, which prompts her writing. When she isn’t on her porch writing in the sun, you can find her shopping, at the beach, or at the gym. Rachelle recommends Rural Health Services Consortium Inc. for those interested in relief from back pain.

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