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Everyday Tips for Chronic Back Pain

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on August 30, 2021

Your back pain could get better, and soon. There are many treatments that could help, from physical therapy to small but strategic changes in your daily routine. Even your breathing might make a difference!

First, ask your doctor what might be the cause of your back pain and how to treat it. They might recommend physical therapy or occupational therapy.

Next, add in these nine everyday habits:

1. Use your breath. When the pain kicks in, it’s easy to tense up. Instead, try to breathe deeply. You may want to visualize the breath going to the area that hurts. This will help you relax. You can also try other stress management techniques, including meditation.

2. Rethink your good days. It’s great to feel better. But you may feel tempted to do a lot of stuff to make up for the times you weren’t able to. So ask yourself, "Are my goals realistic?" Pace yourself. It’s one of the keys to getting things done without a pain backlash.

3. Challenge yourself physically. Are you taking it too easy? If you think that you can’t be active because of your back pain, that’s understandable but misguided. Activity helps -- as long as it’s not too hard, too long, or too much. Exercises that strengthen your back and abdominal muscles can help prevent injury. Ask your doctor or physical therapist what’s best for you.

4. Don’t baby your back. Braces and bed rest have their place. Your doctor may recommend them right after an injury or surgery. But the sooner you can get moving, the better you’ll feel. And extended use of a brace can make your core muscles weak and your pain worse.

5. Watch your weight.  Extra pounds, especially in your midsection, can shift your center of gravity and put strain on your back. Aim to get to or stay within 10 pounds of your ideal weight by eating healthfully and exercising regularly.

6. Reach out. Pain can be isolating. So push back. You might join a support group, book a few sessions with a counselor to help manage your emotions, or open up with your friends and family about what you’re going through.

7. Check on your meds. If you take medicines for your back pain, ask your doctor what you can expect from them, including their side effects and how long it’s OK to take them.

8. Cut back on drinking if your back pain makes it hard to sleep. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it will also make it harder to stay asleep all night.

9. Do you smoke? Try to stop. Ask your doctor for advice and support on this. Smoking may be linked to degenerative disk disease, a leading cause of low back pain.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Pain Foundation.

National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke: "Low Back Pain Fact Sheet."

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Handout on Health: Back Pain."

North American Spine Society. Back Pain Basics, 2007.

Warren, L. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 2001.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Muscle Cramp."

Shiri, R. The American Journal of Medicine, January 2010.

University of Michigan Health System: "Smoking and Back Pain."

American Chiropractic Association: "The Skinny on Weight Loss."

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