Lower back pain is one of the more common body ailments these days. While some lower back conditions are temporary and subside quickly by reducing activity, icing and using pain medication, others become more serious, chronic conditions that affect your ability to work, play and comfortably interact in society. Surgery is not always an option and even if a surgery is performed, it can often lead to other difficulties down the road. Pain medication is also not always the best answer for relieving chronic back pain as it just masks the symptoms, rather than solving the problem. Additionally, as your body builds up a tolerance to medications, you will require more doses to tolerate the pain.
In this article we will outline some fundamental changes that can help alleviate your discomfort, giving you a better quality of life.
Simple Changes to Relieve the Pain
Proper diagnostic testing will provide you with answers as to the cause of your back problems. Though sometimes necessary, surgery and pain medication are not the only options to solving chronic back pain! There are many steps you can take to relieve pressure, stress and discomfort before considering going under the knife.
Proper posture and lifting techniques can make a world of a difference in your home and work life.
- Choose a chair with a straight back or low back support, keeping your spine aligned rather than rounded. Position your knees at hip level or slightly above the hips. When moving, turn the entire chair, rather than twisting at the waist. Taking short breaks to stand or walk will help if your body starts to tense while sitting.
- When lifting objects, lift with the legs instead of the lower back. Bend down in a squat position to pick up the item, and then stand up straight to lift it. When carrying objects, always hold them closer to your body, keeping it between your hips and shoulders.
- Standing with your knees slightly bent and both feet evenly placed on the floor will help keep your hips level and will take stress off the lower back. Additionally, wear comfortable, supportive shoes whenever possible.
- Lay down positions can also be a source of discomfort. Sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees or on your side with your knees bent and a pillow between your legs are the preferred positions. Firmer mattresses provide more support as well.
Though pain can be debilitating, it is important to maintain an active lifestyle. Keeping your body rested for too long can slow the recovery process. Strengthening your body, particularly your core, and improving flexibility will help build stability in your back, reducing stress on your muscles and alleviating pain. Be sure to listen to your body! If something is too heavy, don’t lift it. Most regular exercisers know the feeling of sore muscles from a good workout but if you are experiencing a different kind of pain, stop the activity and contact your doctor. Some helpful back conditioning exercises and stretches include:
- Pelvic Tilts- Lying on your back, feet planted on the floor with knees bent, tighten your abdominal and buttock muscles and press your lower back to the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, then release and repeat.
- Bridges- Lying on your back, feet planted on the floor with knees bent, slowly lift your hips off the floor, keeping your shoulder blades in contact with the ground. Lift as high as you can, squeezing your buttock muscles. Hold for 5 seconds, then slowly come down and repeat.
- Wall Slides- Stand with your back against the wall with your feet roughly 12 inches in front of you, shoulder width apart. Keeping your back flat against the wall, slowly slide down the wall into a half-sit position. Your knees should never extend past your toes. Hold for 5 seconds, then slowly stand back up and repeat.
- Knee to Chest- Lying on your back, feet planted on the floor with knees bent, raise one knee up to your chest, grabbing your shin with both hands. Lightly press and hold for 5 seconds, then bring your foot back to your starting position and repeat with the opposite leg.
- Hamstring Stretches- Lying on your back, feet planted on the floor with knees bent, lift one leg and place a towel or both hands around your thigh, lightly stretching the leg towards your chest. Hold for 5 seconds, then bring your foot back to your starting position and repeat with the opposite leg.
Physical Therapy and Massage
Having trouble? A therapist can be helpful if you’re finding it difficult to strengthen your body on your own. Your physical therapist will assess your needs and will create a custom treatment plan to work on strength, stability, range of motion and flexibility to reduce discomfort and improve your quality of life. Don’t underestimate the power of hot/cold packs! Using a heating pack to warm up your muscles before physical therapy exercise and following with a cold pack to soothe the muscles after therapy can be an effective tool in the healing process. Your therapist can also provide additional education on injury prevention so you can make more informed choices in the future. Massage therapy is another avenue to explore as it improves circulation (aiding in muscle recovery), relaxes muscles (improving range of motion and reducing stiffness) and eases stress and tensions on your body.
There are instances when conservative methods are not the answer and surgery, injections or pain medication is necessary for proper healing. In these cases, physical therapy is generally recommended after the procedure or in conjunction with medication to provide strength and support in the future and accelerate the healing process.