Sudden severe lower back pain can be very worrying. But in most cases, it’s important to remember that most low back pain — even if it’s sudden and intense — won’t last long. One study found that 82% of people said their low back pain happened suddenly .
With the right treatment, you can restore your mobility and get back to daily activities within a few weeks or even days. Here’s what to do if you have sudden severe lower back pain and can’t move.
Is your back pain an emergency?
First, it’s important to establish if your back needs urgent medical attention. If any of the following apply to you, call 999 or go to A&E:
- You’ve been in a car accident or another serious incident.
- You’ve lost control of your bladder or bowels.
- You have numbness and/or tingling around your genitals.
- You have symptoms of sciatica in both legs.
- You have chest pain and/or shortness of breath.
If you’re seriously concerned about your back pain, go to your nearest emergency department even if you don’t have the above symptoms.
What causes sudden severe back pain?
The most likely causes of sudden, severe back pain are:
- Injury or trauma — This could be a sporting injury, a fall, a car accident, or any other physical incident that damages your back. Not all injuries are serious; a pulled muscle or sprained ligament can cause acute back pain such as upper back pain when breathing or moving or lower back pain when standing.
- Sudden disc herniation — A herniated disc can happen as a result of an injury, overexertion, getting older, operating machinery, or being overweight. It may result in a trapped nerve that causes pain in the arms and legs as well as your back.
- Sciatica — Sciatica can come on suddenly, but usually causes shooting pains in the leg and hip as well as pain in the lower back.
Less common causes of sudden severe back pain include:
- Endometriosis — Endometriosis is one of the causes of lower back pain in females. This condition can cause cysts to form on the ovaries. A ruptured cyst can cause sudden, severe back pain.
- Fibromyalgia — A chronic pain condition that can flare up suddenly, causing sudden severe back pain.
- Spondylolisthesis — A bone in your spine slips out of place. If this happens suddenly, you may feel acute pain in your back.
- Vertebral compression fracture (VCF) — If you have moderate to severe osteoporosis, the bones in your back may be prone to VCF, where part of the spine collapses. This can happen when lifting a light object or even a vigorous sneeze.
- Infection or abscess — Infection of the spine is rare, but can be caused by bacteria, fungi, or infections elsewhere in the body. If left untreated, it can lead to an epidural or even spinal cord abscess, which can cause severe back pain.
In very rare cases, back pain can be a symptom of certain types of cancer. But you’re more likely to experience other symptoms first, and cancer-related back pain can have a slower onset. So if your back pain is sudden and severe, it’s likely to have another cause.
What to do if you can’t move from back pain
If your back hurts so much that you’re unable to move (and you’ve ruled out the need for emergency care), here’s what you need to do.
1. Try these techniques
Try these self-help techniques (ideally with a second pair of hands to help you). When attempting any of these, remember to move slowly and stop for breath whenever you need to.
How to get up from lying down
Roll onto your front if you can. Slowly bend your knees and lift your stomach until you’re in a crawling position. If there’s a chair, bed, or other supportive surface nearby, use this to support your arms as you move into a kneeling position.
Bend your stronger leg and use the chair or bed to support you as you move into a standing position. Take your time, and pause if you feel lightheaded.
How to get up from sitting down
If you’re stuck sitting on a chair, gradually move forward until you’re sitting on the edge of the seat. Tense your core muscles for support, and use the arms of the chair to push yourself up into a standing position. If your chair doesn’t have arms, put your hands on your thighs or ask someone to support you as you rise out of the chair.
How to get out of bed
You can get out of bed in one of two ways:
- Roll onto your side facing the edge of the bed. Use the arm beneath you to push your body up sideways to a seated position, slowly moving your feet to the floor. When sitting, put your hands on the bed for support as you rise into a standing position.
- Roll onto your stomach close to the edge of the bed. Let your leg drop from the side of the bed to the floor, then use your hands to raise your upper body. Lower your other leg to the floor and push yourself into a standing position.
If you are uncomfortable lying down and it is affecting the quality of your rest, check out these tips on how to relieve sciatica pain in bed.
2. Try to stay mobile
If you know how you’ve hurt your back — for example, lifting a heavy object or lower back pain from running — you might find that slow, gentle movement helps alleviate your symptoms.
Walking around the room for a few moments might relieve stiffness or decompress a trapped nerve. Gentle stretches are one of the recommended ways to get sciatica relief in eight minutes.
3. Use self-help techniques to manage lower back pain
Try some of these methods to alleviate your lower back pain:
- Apply a cold compress to your lower back.
- Take ibuprofen or another over-the-counter painkiller.
- Don’t stay in the same position for too long, as this can make you stiffen up.
- Try to stay positive — most lower back pain gets better over time.
- Distract yourself with a book, TV programme, or another activity.
It might take a few hours or even days to start moving more easily, but with the right care you should be able to restore your mobility fairly quickly. But if none of these techniques allow you to move without severe discomfort, it’s best to seek medical assistance.
NHS 111 may be able to offer advice on what to do about sudden severe back pain in your specific circumstances. Calling 111 — or using their online symptom checker — will help you decide on your next steps.
5. Get private health support for lower back pain
The NHS can’t always help with lower back pain. If you can’t get the help or support you need from your GP or another local NHS service, you may want to consider private care for lower back pain.
At Harley Street Specialist Hospital, we can often assess, diagnose, and treat your back pain on the same day. We’ll discuss all appropriate treatment options with you, which may include steroid injections, private physiotherapy, and radiofrequency treatments to desensitise the nerves.
Prevent future back problems with Harley Street Specialist Hospital
If sudden back pain is a recurrent problem for you, it may be time to uncover the underlying cause and get treated. With our suite of diagnostic imaging tools and proven treatments for back and spine pain, we can help you start moving with ease again.