Lower Back Pain Relief
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.
You might have sprained it while working in the yard or cleaning house. Or your back might hurt from an old sports injury or a chronic condition such as arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis.
Sudden or severe back pain should be checked by a doctor or a physical therapist. That also goes for pain that won’t go away.
Lower Back Pain Treatment
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.
Try 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 relax) 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.
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.
Try OTC medications. Nonprescription pain relievers can help with muscle aches and stiffness. The two main types of over-the-counter options are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen. NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
True to their name, NSAIDs help lower inflammation that can lead to swelling and tenderness. But acetaminophen does not relieve inflammation. You can reach for either type of pain reliever for occasional back pain.
Rub on medicated creams. Skin creams, salves, ointments, or patches may help when your back feels stiff, sore, and tense. Many of these products contain ingredients such as menthol, camphor, or lidocaine that can cool, heat, or numb the affected area.
Put on creams right where you hurt. Ask someone to apply it if you have trouble reaching the spot.
Ask about supplements. It’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from foods. But ask your doctor if supplements might help.
For example, many people don’t get enough vitamin D, which is important for bone health. That can happen from lack of exposure to sunshine or because your body can’t absorb enough vitamin D from foods. Magnesium deficiency may lead to muscle weakness and cramps.
Always talk to your doctor before you take any supplements.
Lower Back Pain Remedies
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.
Try to keep up with your usual level of daily activity and movement. It can be a brisk 30-minute walk or circling the block with your dog. Aim to get on your feet at least three times a week.
Studies show that people who stay active despite lower 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. Strong muscles, especially in your abdominal core, help support your back. Strength and flexibility may help both relieve your pain and prevent it.
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.
Yoga, Pilates, and tai chi are just a few of the ways to strengthen your core and the muscles around your hips. One exercise that targets your entire upper and lower back is to lie on your tummy and lift up your legs and arms in the flying position.
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 to make sure you’re doing the right exercise for you.
Maintain good posture. This helps ease the pressure on your lower back. You can use tape, straps, or stretchy bands to help keep your spine in alignment. Aim to keep your head centered over your pelvis. Don’t slouch your shoulders or crane your chin forward.
If you work in front of a screen, rest your arms evenly on the table or desk, and keep your eyes level with the top of the screen. Get up from your chair and stretch and walk regularly.
Apply 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.
Keep a healthy weight. Shedding extra pounds lightens the load on your lower back. If you need help, ask your doctor for advice on a diet and exercise plan that may work best for you.
Quit smoking. Research suggests that if you smoke, you may be four times more likely than nonsmokers to have degenerative disk disease or other spine problems.
Nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco products can weaken your spinal bones and take away vital nutrients from the spongy disks that cushion your joints. A healthy spine keeps your back flexible and its muscles from getting stiff and sore.
Use a towel. A rolled-up towel can be a handy tool for back pain relief. Try putting it under your pelvis when you’re lying down. Let your hips relax over the towel and help stretch out the tension in your lower back. See how to sleep on your back.
A back brace can sometimes help, especially after an injury or surgery. But they’re not meant to be worn too often or for too long.