Living with chronic back pain

Photo of a family walking

Low back pain that doesn't go away or keeps returning can really affect your life. One thing you can then do is look for ways to cope better with the pain instead of constantly fighting it or desperately trying out every treatment you come across.

Chronic low back pain can be a major problem, making you feel like you can no longer manage the demands of work and family life. The pain also often gets in the way of social activities like meeting up with friends or doing hobbies. People who have chronic back pain often say that it sometimes gets too much and they withdraw from activities. Some people keep quiet about their pain for a long time or feel guilty because they think they are a burden to their friends or family members. The pain is often particularly bothersome when it occurs suddenly and forces you to cancel plans.

Understanding the pain better

Many people who have chronic pain are frustrated about not knowing what is causing the pain. Some start questioning their own pain perception – and others may even accuse them of imagining it all. But just because no clear cause can be found, it doesn't mean that someone is simply imagining the pain. This is not always easy for people at home and at work to understand, and it may lead to conflict. Those who are in pain sometimes feel they're not being taken seriously or that others don't understand.

It can be helpful to get a better understanding of how chronic pain arises. Knowing more about it yourself can make it easier to explain pain to others, too.

Finding coping strategies

It usually isn't possible to find one specific clear cause of chronic back pain. Treatments often don't help much, only help for a short time, or don't have the same benefit for everyone. It is also often difficult to tell whether a given treatment will help because it hasn't been tested enough in good-quality scientific studies. So people with chronic low back pain need to find out for themselves what helps, and what doesn't.

What's more, some treatments have disadvantages. So it's not a good idea to try out every treatment there is – because of the costs and effort involved, too.

In the long term, many people find it more helpful to accept the chronic pain and focus on finding ways to cope with it in everyday life. Many of those affected manage to get the pain under control and stop it from affecting their daily activities too much.

Some people say that they feel better when they focus on other things rather than on the pain. It sometimes also helps if you take a bit more time to do everything, and adjust your daily routine to accommodate the changes in your ability to carry out certain tasks. Even though it's not always easy, over time many people with chronic back pain learn how to be more active in everyday life and improve their quality of life. Treatment approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy and multimodal pain management can help here, too.

Busch H. Appraisal and coping processes among chronic low back pain patients. Scand J Caring Sci 2005; 19(4): 396-402.

Campbell C, Guy A. 'Why can't they do anything for a simple back problem?' A qualitative examination of expectations for low back pain treatment and outcome. J Health Psychol 2007; 12(4): 641-652.

Cook FM, Hassenkamp A. Active rehabilitation for chronic low back pain: the patient’s perspective. Physiotherapy 2000; 86(2): 61-68.

Coole C, Drummond A, Watson PJ et al. What concerns workers with low back pain? Findings of a qualitative study of patients referred for rehabilitation. J Occup Rehabil 2010; 20(4): 472-480.

Corbett M, Foster NE, Ong BN. Living with low back pain – Stories of hope and despair. Soc Sci Med 2007; 65(8): 1584-1594.

Crowe M, Whitehead L, Gagan MJ et al. Listening to the body and talking to myself – the impact of chronic lower back pain: a qualitative study. Int J Nurs Stud 2010; 47(5): 586-592.

Glenton C. Chronic back pain sufferers – striving for the sick role. Soc Sci Med 2003; 57(11): 2243-2252.

Medina-Mirapeix F, Escolar-Reina P, Gascón-Cánovas JJ et al. Personal characteristics influencing patients' adherence to home exercise during chronic pain: a qualitative study. J Rehabil Med 2009; 41(5): 347-352.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

Comment on this page

What would you like to share with us?

We welcome any feedback and ideas - either via our form or by We will review, but not publish, your ratings and comments. Your information will of course be treated confidentially. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required fields.

Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Über diese Seite

Updated on December 5, 2022

Next planned update: 2025


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

How we keep you informed

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter or newsfeed. You can find all of our films online on YouTube.