You’ve probably had lower back pain. It affects more than 80% of people at some point. And it’s the most common cause of job-related disability in the U.S. While medicine can help, you may also find relief with these simple steps.
1. Find a Physical Therapist
This can make a big difference, especially if you’ve had the pain for more than 4-6 weeks. With techniques like electrical stimulation, ultrasound, heat, and muscle relaxation, these specialists help you get more mobile and flexible.
They can also teach you exercises to do on your own to keep your symptoms from coming back. These can help your posture and keep your back and abdominal muscles (your core) healthy.
2. Keep Moving, Keep Stretching
Scared to get back to your exercise routine? It makes sense. After all, you want to be careful and avoid things that’ll make you feel worse. But did you know that your chronic back pain will improve if you get moving? Exercise keeps your muscles strong and prevents spasms.
Studies show that people who stay active despite low back pain are more flexible than those who play it safe and stay in bed for a week. Exercises that both strengthen and stretch your body help the most. In addition to walking, you might want to swim, ride a stationary bike, or try low-impact aerobics.
Also, research shows that yoga and stretching can ease pain and improve back movement. Scientists divided 228 people who’d had moderate pain for at least 3 months into three groups. Two groups took a 75-minute yoga or stretching class once a week for 12 weeks. The third group got a book of exercises and lifestyle changes they could make to ease their discomfort.
After 3 months, those who did yoga or intensive stretching fared better than those who didn’t. A full 6 months later, they took less medicine for their back pain. They also said their pain was better or completely gone during follow-up appointments.
While exercise is one of the best things you can do to relieve back pain, it shouldn’t hurt or make your pain worse. If so, check in with your doctor or physical therapist for make sure you’re doing the right exercise for you.
3. Manipulation or Massage
Manipulation is when physical therapists or other health professionals, like chiropractors, use different techniques to move your spine through its full range of movement. Studies show that if you’ve had back pain for more than a month, this can be a safe and effective treatment. But you may need several sessions.
Massage may provide relief, too. One study found that people who got either structural massage (soft-tissue techniques to address problems with your muscles or skeleton) or relaxation massage (stroking, kneading, or circular motions to help you chill) saw improved symptoms after 10 weeks. They were able to get through their daily activities more easily and used less pain medication than those who just got regular care. If you’re interested in trying manipulation or massage, talk to your doctor about finding a qualified health professional or massage therapist.
4. Ice and Heat
There isn’t a lot of proof that ice will ease your symptoms, but some people say it helps. Want to see if it’ll work for you? Apply ice to your lower back at least three times a day -- in the morning, after work or school, and then again before bedtime. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel to protect your skin. Don’t leave it on longer than 15-20 minutes at a time.
Heat does help to ease low back pain. Moist heat -- baths, showers, and hot packs -- tends to work better. But you can try an electric heating pad. Apply it to your sore back for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Set a timer so you don’t fall asleep with it on. Always set the pad on low or medium -- never high. It can cause serious burns.
5. Calm Your Mind
Research shows your state of mind can affect the chances that you’ll get low back pain better than clinical tests like MRIs and disk injections. People who have chronic pain or trouble handling what life throws their way are almost three times more likely to have back pain than people who have neither. That means if you’re always anxious or expect the worst in every situation, you may be more likely to have the pain.
Psychological therapies, like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can also ease your symptoms. This practice teaches you to ignore negative mental chatter and focus on your breathing. Check online for tips on how to use these techniques.