Back Pain Management at Home
Author: Dr. Hamid Abbasi
DATE: 19 Nov 2018
Back pain is a common ailment that affects about 80% of all Americans, men and women alike.1 For some, back pain may be the result of an injury or physical problem. For others, it may be just mild discomfort that comes after lifting a heavy package or overdoing it while working in the garden. In either case, there’s a lot you can do to manage your back pain at home. Here are some tips.
What are the Best Methods for Back Pain Management?
NSAIDs for Back Pain
The first line of defense for back pain management is an over-the-counter pain reliever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn) will help to reduce inflammation and ease the pain caused by swollen nerves and muscles. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also ease pain by interfering with the pain signals sent to the brain.
Cold and Heat
Try an ice pack or cold compress if it’s been less than 48 hours since the pain started. Applying cold reduces pain by numbing the injured area and reducing the swelling. But if it’s been more than 48 hours since the pain started, a heating pad is a better choice. Heat is soothing. It relaxes the muscles and increases blood flow, which will promote healing. Don’t apply the heating pad directly to bare skin. Keep a thin layer of clothing or a cloth between you and the pad, and don’t apply the heat for more than 20 minutes at a time. Set the temperature at a comfortable level. It should be hot enough to feel warm but not so hot that it burns.
Rubs and Patches
When you can’t lie down with a heating pad, an over-the-counter muscle rub, such as Capsaicin or Icy Hot, or a topical patch, such as Salonpas, can make your aching back feel noticeably better. Research has shown that these products can be as effective as oral painkillers.2
Not only does massage feel good, it’s therapeutic for back pain. Gentle massage has been shown to be an effective way to loosen sore muscles and reduce pain. One research study concluded that massage improves back pain and back function, cuts down on the need for pain medications, and reduces the number of days that back pain sufferers stay in bed.
Stretching and Yoga
If you’ve been sitting for a while, get up! Stand up and stretch every 20 minutes or so. Walk around a bit. Arch your back. Stretch your legs, too, especially your hamstrings. Tight hamstrings are a major contributor to lower back pain. You might also consider yoga. One study showed that yoga can be as effective as physical therapy exercises in managing back pain.
A Relaxing Bath
A nice soak in a warm tub is always relaxing, but it can be especially soothing for a sore back. Soak for about 20 minutes in warm (not hot) water. Water that is too hot can actually make sore muscles swell, increasing the pain. Cold water, on the other hand, could cause cramping. Aim for a temperature between 92°F and 100°F (33°C and 38°C). You might add some Epsom salt as well to relieve muscle tension, pain, and inflammation.
What Lifestyle Changes Can I Make that Will Help Me Manage My Back Pain?
Now let’s look at how some of your lifestyle choices are impacting your back. Your back will thank you.
- Keep your weight in check. Being overweight puts excessive strain on your back.
- Be aware of your posture. Do you sit with your legs crossed? Do you hunch forward to see the TV or the monitor? Do you sit in a chair that provides support for your lower back? Try to become more aware of how you are positioning your body. You can retrain your body to stand, walk, and sit in ways that put less strain on your spine. There are some apps that may be worth a try to help you improve your posture, too.
- Get enough sleep. Pain and insomnia have a dysfunctional relationship. Pain makes it harder to get a good night’s sleep but, if you don’t get enough sleep, your pain will seem even worse. You need to address both aspects of the equation. Make changes that will improve how well you sleep while taking steps to reduce your pain level.
- Change your shoes. Women should toss those stilettos. High heels make your posture unstable, which puts added pressure on your lower spine. Opt instead for flats or shoes with heels no more than 1 inch high.
- Kick the habit. What does smoking have to do with back pain? It increases the risk of developing osteoporosis of the spine. Research studies have identified that smokers are more likely to have low back pain than nonsmokers.
For many people, following these tips will be enough to help you manage your back pain. But in other cases, back pain may require medical intervention. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s time to call your doctor:
- pain that lasts longer than six weeks
- pain that is getting worse or keeps you up at night
- weakness, numbness, or tingling in your legs
- trouble walking or standing.
When this happens, there’s no substitute for quality medical care. Contact the spine specialists at Inspired Spine for expert guidance in back pain management.