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Back Pain Treatment Options

DiagnosisPhysical Activity | Medications | Self-Management

Diagnosis   Back pain Diagnosis  

Your health professional typically will take a case history and do a clinical and neurological examination to determine whether you have any signs or symptoms that indicate whether other diagnostic tests are required.  For most back pain, research has shown that X-rays or other investigative tests are not indicated. In fact some investigative tests, such as x-rays, if used indiscriminately can result in poorer health outcomes.  Your health professional will assess whether you have any "Red Flags" or “Yellow Flags”. Red flags alert your health professional of the need for further action. Yellow flags alert your health professional to other factors that may need to be addressed to reduce your risk of developing unnecessary long-term disability, work loss or reduced quality of life.

Red Flag Symptoms

  • Neurological: major motor weakness, disturbance of bowel or bladder control, saddle numbness
  • Infection: fever, risk of UTI, IV drug use, immune suppressed
  • Fracture: trauma, osteoporosis risk
  • Tumour: history of cancer, weight loss, fever, pain worse supine or at night
  • Inflammation: morning stiffness greater than 1 hour,
  • Age: less than 20 years or over 50 years 

Yellow Flag Symptoms

  • Belief that back pain is harmful or potentially severely disabling
  • Fear and avoidance of activity or movement
  • Tendency to low mood and withdrawal from social interaction
  • Expectation of passive treatment(s) rather than a belief that active participation will help

Physical Activity     

Physical activity helps improve physical and mental health. Back StretchesIt plays a vital role in managing your back pain. If approached properly, physical activity can reduce stiffness and pain, increase energy and stamina, improve sleep quality and promote weight loss and long-term weight management.

It’s important to consult your health professional about a routine that is moderate and will strengthen the appropriate muscles in your back and reduce potential harm from doing exercises incorrectly. There are many fitness centres and organizations that have exercise programs which target people with back pain and arthritis. You can also find more information on simple steps to incorporate physical activity into your everyday life.


Chest Stretches for Back and Neck PainArthritis Foundation
Exercise and ArthritisUniversity of Washington
Exercise at Your DeskMove Forward PT
Low Back Pain TipsMove Forward PT
Low Back Pain: ExercisesHealth Link BC
Physical Activity and Chronic DiseaseWork Wellness and Disability Prevention Institute
Physical Activity and Exercise Interventions in the Workplace Impacting Work Outcomes: A Stakeholder-Centered Best Evidence Synthesis of Systematic ReviewsWork Wellness and Disability Prevention Institute
Yoga for HealthNational Center for Complementary and Integrative Health


There is a range of over the counter and prescription medications used for treating back pain. It is best to check with your physician as to what is best for you.

Self Management      

Healthy Life SignLiving with back pain can be difficult. Self-management techniques can help you live well with chronic back pain. Health professionals and researchers agree that self-care and life skills play vital roles in a person's pain management. Taking action to improve physical fitness, reduce stress and manage your condition can reduce your pain levels and give you more control over your life. The Arthritis Society and the Centre for Aging (University of Victoria) run Self-Management Programs in British Columbia. WWDPI also provides various tips on evidence-based approaches to self-management.



Arthritis Care
Guided Meditation VideoMayo Clinic
Mindfulness Meditation PodcastsUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Physical Activity and Exercise Interventions in the Workplace Impacting Work Outcomes: A Stakeholder-Centered Best Evidence Synthesis of Systematic ReviewsWork Wellness and Disability Prevention Institute
Self Help for Chronic Pain or


  • Red Flag Symptoms - IWH Adapted from: The Peterborough Back Rules chart template. G. Powell and The Peterborough Back Rules Working Group. September, 1997.
  • Yellow Flag Symptoms - Adapted from: Guide to Assessing Psychosocial Yellow Flags in Acute Low Back Pain: Risk Factors for Long-Term Disability and Work Loss. January 1997 edition.


​Reviewed by Marc White PhD, Scientific & President and CEO, WWDPI (See Review Criteria)

Last Modified: 6/4/2018 3:25 PM