Lower back pain is extremely common, affecting up to 80% of adults at some point in their lives. While lower back pain often resolves on its own within a few weeks, knowing how long to rest can help promote healing and prevent re-injury.
How Long Does Lower Back Pain Usually Last?
For acute lower back pain (pain lasting less than 6 weeks), studies show that symptoms typically improve within 2 to 4 weeks. Up to 40% of people still have some back pain at 6 weeks, but only about 7% remain disabled at this point.
For subacute lower back pain (lasting between 6 and 12 weeks), symptoms often continue improving gradually. Around 30% of people still have back pain at 3 months.
Chronic lower back pain refers to symptoms lasting more than 12 weeks. At this point, complete resolution becomes less likely and back pain often recurs. However, with proper treatment, most people find ways to manage chronic back pain and remain active.
When Can I Return to Activity After Lower Back Injury?
Here are general guidelines on when it’s safe to return to activity after a lower back injury:
- Desk work: 1-2 days rest, or when pain allows
- Light activity (walking, etc): 2-4 days rest
- Moderate activity (light exercise, driving): 1 week rest
- Heavy activity (contact sports, heavy lifting): 2-4 weeks rest
However, always listen to your body. Resume activity gently and stop if you experience significant pain. Pushing too hard too soon can re-injure your back and prolong recovery.
When Should I See a Doctor for Lower Back Pain?
See your doctor if you experience:
- Difficulty controlling bowel/bladder function
- Numbness around genitals or buttocks
- Progressive leg weakness
- Fever along with back pain
These can indicate a serious problem like a spinal infection, nerve damage, or cauda equina syndrome. Seek immediate medical care if you develop these symptoms.
You should also see a doctor if your back pain:
- Lasts more than 1-2 weeks
- Is severe or gets worse
- Spreads down your leg
- Occurs after a major trauma like a fall or car accident
Your doctor can check for serious causes and provide personalized treatment recommendations.
How Long Should I Rest for Lower Back Pain?
Here are general guidelines on recommended rest times:
|Severity of Lower Back Pain
|Recommended Minimum Rest
|Mild pain with no injury
|1-2 days rest
|Moderate pain after injury/strain
|1 week rest
|Severe pain after injury/strain
|2-4 weeks rest
|Chronic pain >12 weeks
|Rest as needed between activity
However, always let your symptoms guide you. Resume gentle activity slowly, but stop if you experience significant pain. Pushing too hard too soon can delay healing.
Tips for Resting Your Lower Back
Here are some tips to help rest your back and avoid re-injury:
- Avoid prolonged sitting or standing – change positions frequently
- Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees
- Avoid lifting, bending, or twisting
- Apply cold packs for 20 minutes several times per day
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed
- Perform gentle stretches and walks as tolerated
- Avoid activities that aggravate your pain
See your doctor if your back pain persists beyond 1-2 weeks or gets worse despite rest. Most lower back pain resolves within several weeks, but your doctor can help identify any serious causes and get you on the road to recovery.
How long you should rest lower back pain depends on the severity of your injury. Mild strains may only require 1-2 days, while severe injuries need 2-4 weeks of rest. Listen to your body and resume activity slowly. See your doctor if pain persists beyond 1-2 weeks or worsens despite rest. With proper rest and treatment, most lower back pain improves within several weeks to months.