Back pain is one of the most common problems you deal with as you age. About 80% of adults have it at some point. And more than 25% of adults say they’ve had it in the past 3 months.
But how do you know if your back pain is bad enough to see a doctor? It’s a good idea to go if:
- Your back pain is from a new injury.
- It comes with a fever.
- You have bladder or bowel problems because of it.
- It’s really severe and doesn’t get better after rest.
- It spreads down your legs or causes numbness and tingling in your legs.
- You lose weight because of it.
It’s also worth telling your doctor if you’re over 50 and:
- Haven’t had back pain before
- Have a history of cancer or osteoporosis
- Use drugs and alcohol a lot
If none of these things applies, you can manage your pain at home with:
Give your back muscles a break -- but not for too long. Bed rest can help you heal right after back pain starts, but limit it to a few hours a day. After a day or two, you should start to move your muscles normally again so they don’t get stiff. Stretches can be a gentle way to ease back into regular movement.
Cold and Heat
When back pain starts, reach for ice first. Cold compresses, ice packs, or a pack of frozen vegetables from the freezer can ease swelling and numb the area. After about 48 hours, switch to a heating pad or hot water bottle. Heat will relax your back muscles and help blood flow to make you feel better. Ease up on the heat after a week -- it probably won’t help much after that.
Regular exercise can help you heal. You may not be able to do your normal workout, but keep up your physical activity as best you can. Don’t do movements that add to your pain, but don’t stop exercising completely.
Ask your doctor or physical therapist what kind of exercises you can do. Try low-impact activities like biking or swimming. Yoga is another option. Studies show it can ease both long-term and short-term back pain.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Relaxation practices like mindfulness and meditation don’t just give your body a chance to be still, but they help your brain deal with pain better. These exercises train you to focus on your breath. They can also rewire your mind so that pain doesn’t affect you the same way. Meditation can ease stress levels and inflammation, too.
OTC Pain Medication
Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium can dial back your pain. Always take them as directed. If your pain doesn’t go away with OTC drugs after 10 days, ask your doctor if they recommend prescription meds.
You can also buy sprays and creams to dull pain. These topical remedies make your skin feel hot or cold to mask the back pain beneath.