There are few things that are worse than back pain. The lower back is the part of the body that undergoes the greatest amount of physical stress while working to both provide a strong and stable base of support while also functioning to allow the flexibility necessary to perform many different movements throughout the day. If the joints, muscles, discs, and nerves that surround the spine are damaged, the pain can be excruciating. Perhaps you bent the wrong way while lifting something heavy, or you’re dealing with a degenerative condition like arthritis. Whatever the cause, once you have low back pain, it can be hard to shake. Roughly one in four Americans say they’ve had a recent bout of low back pain and 80% of us can expect to experience a significant bout of back pain at some point in our lives. Sometimes, it’s clearly serious such as if are injured in a car accident, fall down the stairs, or develop sudden weakness in your thighs and legs. In cases like this call your physician or seek emergency medical attention, of course. In a majority of instances LBP does not develop through trauma or involve profound neurologic deficiencies in our lower extremities. In cases like this here are a few simple tips to try at home.
- Chill it. Ice is best in the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury because it reduces inflammation
- Keep moving. Keep doing your daily activities as tolerated to avoid lower back stiffness or soreness. Make the beds, go to work, walk the dog. Once you’re feeling better, regular aerobic exercises like swimming, bicycling, and walking can keep you — and your back — more mobile. There’s no need to run a marathon when your back is sore.
- Stay strong. Once your low back pain has receded, you can help avert future episodes of back pain by working the muscles that support your lower back, including the abdominal and back extensor muscles. Having strong hip and pelvic muscles also provides substantial core stability. Avoid abdominal crunches as they can actually put more strain on your back.
- Stretch. Don’t sit slumped in your desk chair all day. Get up every 20 minutes or so and stretch the other way to avoid lower back pain. Don’t forget to also stretch your legs. Some people find relief from their back pain by doing a regular stretching routine, like yoga.
- Think ergonomically. Design your workspace so you don’t have to hunch forward to see your computer monitor or reach way out for your mouse. Use a desk chair that supports your lower back and allows you to keep your feet planted firmly on the floor.
- Watch your posture. Slumping makes it harder for your back to support your weight. Be especially careful of your posture when lifting heavy objects. Use your knees and hips to lift and lower while being careful to avoid bending over from the waist.
- Wear low heels with adequate arch support. Exchange your four-inch pumps for flats or low heels (less than 1 inch). High heels may create a more unstable posture, and increase pressure on your lower spine.
- Kick the habit! Smoking can increase your risk for osteoporosis of the spine and other bone problems. Osteoporosis can in turn lead to compression fractures of the spine. Recent research found that smokers are more likely to have low back pain compared with non-smokers.
- Watch your weight. Use diet and exercise to keep your weight within a healthy range for your height. Being overweight puts excess stress on your spine.
- Try an over-the-counter pain reliever.
- Contact a physical therapist. In many cases a pain related to muscle strains, ligament sprains, tight joints, or mild disc bulges can be immediately reduced by properly identifying the source of the symptom and treating it properly.
Call your doctor if your low back pain is severe, doesn’t go away after a few days, it hurts even when you’re at rest or lying down, you have weakness or numbness in your legs, you have trouble standing or walking, or lose control over your bowels or bladder as these could be signs that you have a nerve problem or another underlying medical condition that needs to be treated.