Sometimes it’s clearly serious: You were injured, or you feel numbness, weakness, or tingling in the legs. Call the doctor, of course. But for routine and mild low back pain, here are a few simple tips to try at home.
Chill it. Ice is best in the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury because it reduces inflammation, and excessive inflammation will always cause pain. I know the first tendency to go for the heating pad or hot tub because the warmth “feels good” by covering up the pain. While it does help relax the muscles, the heat can actually encourage more inflammation. The best bet for heat is to wait 48 hours. After that, you can switch from cold therapy to heat if you prefer. Whether you use heat or ice – remember to remove it after about 20 minutes to give your skin a rest. You can repeat as necessary. If pain persists, talk with a doctor.
Keep moving. Although you must “respect" your pain, the spine is meant to move. Pain permitting, you should keep doing your daily activities. Make the bed, go to work, walk the dog. Once you're feeling better, you can return to more advanced exercises like swimming, bicycling, and walking. Doing so can keep you -- and your back -- more nimble and mobile. Just don't overdo it with the macho “walk it off” thing. There's no need to run a marathon when your back is sore, but there’s not need to “baby” it either.
Stay strong. Once your low back pain has receded, you can help avert future episodes of back pain by working the muscles that support your lower back, including the back extensor muscles. These muscles help you maintain the proper posture and alignment of your spine. Don’t forget that having strong hip, pelvic, and abdominal muscles can also give you more back support. However, you may want to avoid abdominal “sit-ups,” because they can actually put more strain on your back. Try a “plank” exercise instead.
Stretch. Don't sit slumped in your desk chair all day. Plan to get up every 20 minutes or so and stretch the opposite way. Since our jobs tend to place us in a position that requires a lot of time bending forward, it's important to stand up and stretch backward periodically throughout the day. While you’re up, you may even want to stretch your legs. You can augment your spinal health by adding a regular stretching routine to your workout or including yoga classes.
Think ergonomically. Consider re-designing your workspace so you don't have to hunch forward to see your computer monitor or reach way out for your mouse. Use a desk chair that supports your lower back and allows you to keep your feet planted firmly on the floor.
Watch your posture. Slumping makes it harder for your back to support your weight. Be especially careful of your posture when lifting heavy objects. Never bend over from the waist. Instead, bend and straighten from the knees.
Wear comfortable shoes. And, if you wear heels, Exchange your four-inch pumps for flats or low heels (less than 1 inch). High heels and ill fitting shoes create a more unstable posture, and increase pressure on your lower spine. According to research, nearly 60% of women who consistently wear high-heeled shoes also complain of low back pain.
Kick the habit. Smoking can increase your risk for osteoporosis of the spine and other bone problems. Osteoporosis can lead to compression fractures of the spine. One study found that smokers are about a third more likely to have low back pain compared with nonsmokers.
Watch your weight. Use diet and exercise to keep your weight within a healthy range for your height. Being overweight puts excess stress on your spine.
Try an over-the-counter pain reliever. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin), and naproxen sodium (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn) can help reduce back pain. Acetaminophen (Actamin, Panadol, Tylenol) is another over-the-counter option for pain management. Be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist about any interactions over-the-counter pain relievers may have with other medications you are taking. People with a history of certain medical conditions (such as ulcers, kidney disease, and liver disease) should avoid some medicines.
Remember to Call your doctor if:
Your low back pain doesn't go away after a few days, and it hurts even when you're at rest or lying down. You have weakness or numbness in your legs, or you have trouble standing or walking, or you lose control over your bowels or bladder. These could be signs that you have a nerve problem or another underlying medical condition that needs to be treated.
As always – enjoy your life.
John Aaron Villarreal
Bio: I am a Houston based, male massage therapist and wellness coach specializing in pain management and health programs for individuals over the age of forty. I laugh - a lot. I'm quirky but sincere. And, while I'm not a counselor, I do listen and I do care: Except for the times that I don't. That’s a joke - Did I mention that I like to laugh? Anyway, visit my website, call or email me and let's get together to talk about you, and the many ways to live life better!
The Legal Stuff: I write to inform, inspire and encourage my readers to enjoy all that life has to offer.
The content and information on this site is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease.
Please consult your physician prior to starting any exercise, diet or wellness program.