How to Find Back Pain Relief
Author: Dr. Hamid Abbasi
DATE: 08 Sep 2018
At the very least, back pain is annoying. At its worst, it can be debilitating. Is there anything you can do to ease the pain? Turns out there is.
Back pain is a common complaint. At least 80 percent of Americans will experience a back problem at some point in their lives. Back problems are the number one reason for missed work and the second most common reason for doctor’s office visits.1 Some back problems are minor and respond well to simple techniques that you can do at home. If you are in this category, there’s a lot you can do to get back pain relief and help yourself feel better.
Back Pain Relief Techniques You Can Do at Home
Apply ice and heat
Applying either cold or hot packs can go a long way in easing the discomfort. An ice pack can numb back pain and reduce swelling and inflammation. Heat reduces muscle spasms and cramping and it stimulates blood flow, which helps to heal injured muscles. In most cases, doctors advise using ice for the first 48 hours. Wrap an ice pack in a thin towel and apply it several times a day for up to 20 minutes each time. After two days, switch to a heating pad or warm pack to help relax your sore muscles.
Take advantage of over-the-counter pain relief
For short-term back pain relief, over-the-counter pain relievers may be enough to do the trick. These include acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve). Follow the dosing instructions on the label. Talk to your doctor if you don’t get relief after taking the recommended dose.
Get out of bed
You may think that bed rest is the best remedy for your aching back, but think again. Extended bedrest won’t help your back and can lead to other problems, such as blood clots and loss of muscle tone. Current thinking on bed rest is that you should limit how long you lie down to a couple of hours for no more than a day or two. Then get up and do some gentle stretches or go for a walk. Just take it slow and stop if you feel pain.
Start an exercise routine
Having strong abdominal and back muscles can really help to support your lower spine and prevent further back problems. Strengthening your abdominal muscles, in particular, reduces strain on your back. Something as simple as sitting on an exercise ball for 30 minutes a day will help you build a stronger core. You can also try aquatic therapy where you exercise in a warm therapeutic pool. It’s easier on sore muscles and joints. Nothing too strenuous. And always stop if it starts to hurt.
Tense, tight muscles make back pain worse. Tight hamstrings (the muscles in the back of your thighs), in particular, will put stress on your lower back. Some gentle hamstring stretches twice a day will loosen things up. Start out slowly, and check with your doctor first if you are concerned.
Yoga is also a great way to get a good stretch and can make aching backs feel better.2 Many yoga postures loosen tight muscles, build strength and range of motion, and result in a more relaxed mind and body—all benefits that can lead to a healthier, happier back. Again, keep it gentle and build up slowly. Don’t force the stretch.
Get a massage
One research study concluded that a weekly massage for 10 weeks is an effective way to reduce back pain. When combined with traditional medical treatment, massage reduces back pain, improves function, minimizes the number of days that a back pain sufferer spends in bed, and reduces the need for anti-inflammatory pain medications.
Soak in a tub
Taking a nice soak in a warm tub is not only a relaxing indulgence but another way you can get back pain relief. A 20-minute soak, especially after exercise, will ease sore muscles. Use comfortably warm water, not too hot. The Arthritis Foundation recommends a temperature between 92⁰ and 100⁰F (33⁰ and 38⁰C). Try adding some Epsom salt to boost the effect. While you’re in the tub, you can also use a small rubber ball or tennis ball to massage the sore spots. Place the ball under your back where it hurts and move your body from side to side over the ball.
Watch your posture
Poor posture, especially while sitting for long stretches, takes a toll on your back. It puts excessive strain on back muscles, making back pain worse. When you’re at your desk, sit up straight. Don’t slump. You want the bones in your spine to be stacked neatly in a straight column, not zig zagging between your neck and your bottom. Keep your shoulders relaxed with your feet flat on the floor and your body against the back of your chair for support. Using a pillow or rolled up towel placed between your lower back and the seat back will help.
Pain is a leading cause of insomnia. It makes sense. It’s much harder to sleep when you’re uncomfortable. Yet a lack of sleep will make back pain worse. Moreover, sleeping in the wrong position can irritate an already sore back. So it’s worth the effort to rethink how you sleep. To start, make sure that you have a good mattress. Then try different sleeping positions to see what works best. If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees to reduce the strain on your back muscles. If you sleep on your back, slide a pillow under your knees. Sleeping on your stomach is especially hard on your back but, if you must do it, put a pillow under the lower part of your abdomen. If none of this works, try spending a few nights sleeping on the floor with a pillow under your feet.
Block pain impulses with a TENS unit
Electrical stimulation devices—known as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators or TENS units—provide powerful pain management. They are battery-operated gadgets that emit low-voltage electrical impulses that block pain signals. Why they work has not been extensively researched, but they have been used by many patients who report a significant decrease in pain.
When to Call Your Doctor About Back Pain
If your back pain persists, your doctor is the best judge of what course of treatment is best for you. Seeking medical help sooner rather than later is important because you may be able to prevent the problem from turning into something much worse and possibly avoid the need for surgery.
If you haven’t already consulted a spine specialist, it may be time to do so if:
- the pain is getting worse.
- you’ve had pain for more than six weeks.
- the pain wakes you up at night.
- you also have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arms or legs.
To learn more about the causes of back pain and how to treat them, contact the spine specialists at Inspired Spine.