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Subacute Phase

I sprained my back on the job about a month ago. I've been off work ever since. Is there anything I can do on my own to get back to work sooner?

About 80 percent of adults with an episode of back pain get better on their own within one to 10 days. Like you, a smaller number of people may still have pain one to two months later. This is called the subacute phase.

Studies do show that the longer a patient is off work, the greater the chances are of becoming a chronic pain patient. Long-term disability is the next step. To avoid this series of events, patients with nonspecific back pain are advised to keep active. Nonspecific back pain means it is not caused by tumor, infection, or a ruptured disc. Most often the exact cause remains unknown.

A few days of bed rest may be needed after the injury first happens. After that physical activity and exercise are the best treatment.

Some people attend a series of classes called back school. Physical Therapists usually teach proper posture and exercises geared toward recovery. Patients are taught that pain relief isn't always needed to go back to work. They are shown how to recognize when fear of reinjury is slowing down their progress. A short-term low-intensity back school gets workers back on the job faster than rest or a high-intensity program.

Martijn W. Heymans, PT, PhD, et al. The Effectiveness of High-Intensity Versus Low-Intensity Back Schools in an Occupational Setting. In Spine. May 1, 2006. Vol. 31. No. 10. Pp. 1075-1082.