Most often in my office, I see back pain patients and the ones I see have had more than one episode of the back pain before they come in and seek medical care. Most people wait until a few episodes of pain or spasms before they seek any sort of help. The usual course of action is they felt the pain, took some sort of medicine (ibuprofen seems to be the most popular), and took rest. They either stopped all activities but kept moving or literally stopped everything and spent the day flat on their back hoping that it would cause the pain to disappear.
First let me say that because the back is such a complex space of nerves, discs, bones and muscles, it is imperative that you consult your health care professional when you first begin experiencing the episodes of back pain. Pain that goes from your back down your leg is something that is not to be ignored or attempted to be self-treated or self-diagnosed. Seeking help sooner, rather than later will result in more positive outcomes.
Frequently the low back pain that people experience is due to back spasms, or muscles contracting so forcefully that it is causes pain and sometimes these spasms make it nearly impossible to move. These spasms that occur in the muscle do so because the muscle has knots in it, meaning that there has been an injury there before, whether it was direct trauma or as a result of compensation and weakness. Whatever the reason the knots are there and the muscle goes into spasm causing pain and difficulty with moving.
In this case when the result of the back pain is muscular, the worst thing that you can do is spend the day flat on your back. To put it in the simplest of terms, muscles act as pumps. In order for them to work properly they need fluid being pumped in and out of them. The only way for this to happen is to move, even it is the simplest of movements, a gentle slow walk, weight shifting back and forth while standing in the shower, and anything that allows the muscles to have fluid move in and out of them will help the muscle recover. Without movement, very little fluid goes into the muscle and the lack of fluid can actually make the spasm more intense. So as you go to get on the couch and rest the muscle you may be making things worse, not better.
When the muscle goes into spasm, it causes the muscle to become shorter. The shortening of the muscle is what causes the pain when you move. You try to move and use the muscle at a length that you are used to using it at but it has become shorter and you are unable to use it effectively. If you move around gently, walking, doing stretches, you can gently start to lengthen the muscle causing the spasm to become less intense. If you feel it intolerable to move or stand, do as little as you can but do something. It may feel unbearable at first and you may freeze for a few seconds but start to do the gentlest of movements, rocking back and forth or side to side on your feet. Gently ease into movement. The opposite is not true, that if you have an episode of back pain that you feel you need to take time off your feet. The idea is to move and move gently. Do not continue to briskly walk or run or lift if you are having pain; it is not a no pain, no gain situation. If you feel numbness or tingling running down your leg, in your feet or in any part of your legs, this is indicative of a much more serious issue and you should seek medical attention immediately.
Most cases that I see that are muscular in nature. As we begin to discuss the history, the patient generally discloses that this has occurred several times. As time has gone on the frequency has increased, the intensity has increased and the area that is affected has grown significantly often starting on one side but then has spread to the other side. Many people trick themselves into thinking that when they have an episode of back pain and it goes away, either by laying down or taking Advil, that the pain will not come back. In all reality the first time the pain goes away, it may not occur again and whatever you did to relieve worked and it may have truly been a one-time thing. However, if it occurs two, three and four times it will continue to increase in frequency and intensity until you fix the problem. Even though you are able to make it go away on its own, the pain is gone only temporarily and will most likely return. Therefore, seeking medical help for reoccurring back pain is a must. And thinking that taking time off your feet will fix the problem is not the best solution; it may allow the pain to go away for a little bit but it will not fix the problem.
The video below shows some very basic and easy stretches that can be done on a daily basis to help minimize your back pain or while you are in spasm. If you do need to get off your feet because of the pain, do some stretches to help introduce fluid to the muscle and begin to help return it to resting length. Stretch to the point of feeling a nice stretch; do not stretch to the point of pain. Stretching to the point of pain will actually cause damage to the muscle and not allow it to heal.