About 80 per cent of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives, with lower back pain the biggest problem. What can we do to manage and prevent this pain?
Most important is remaining as active as possible during low back pain. This may seem counter-intuitive, and may be difficult, but extensive research has confirmed prolonged periods of bed rest worsens low back pain.
Your body is designed to move. This may be tough during debilitating bouts of pain — but if you are in pain the best mantra you can enact is “little and often”; move a little, as often as you can. Eventually you can gradually increase your range of movement.
Some other keys to managing lower back pain:
- Watch out for stress: a stressful environment will worsen your back pain. It’s natural to worry about how bad your pain is, when it is going to heal and how much it is going to affect your efficiency, but worrying too much will harm you.
- Try to practice deep breathing during an attack: feeling tense only makes things worse, so you need to somehow relax your body during periods of pain. Rhythmic and slow breathing works, helping calm your mind as much as possible.
- Use a heat pad or ice pack: heat and ice is most effective when relieving pain. Generally the rule is that if an injury is hot to the touch, use ice; if it’s cold, use heat. But you may develop a personal preference so be prepared to try one or the other, and stick with it for the first few weeks.
- Consider lumbar supports such as back support, corsets and braces: these might also be helpful in alleviating pain for some people.
- Follow a home exercise program: I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep active and moving. Once the original pain has passed a home exercise program will help you to progress.
- Use pillows: when sleeping, placing a pillow between or under your knees may help your back.
- Do light stretching exercises several times a day: This will help with the pain, and eventually may be continued as a preventative measure.
Remember “little and often” is the good mantra: move a little and as often as possible, within tolerable levels of pain.
If you’re over your back pain, remember these preventative measures:
- Lift from your knees: keep your back straight, hold the object close to your body and then try to lift it up.
- If you must move heavy objects, try to push the object instead of pull.
- Take frequent breaks to stretch if you need to sit at your desk or drive for longer durations of time.
Follow a regular regimen for exercise as a sedentary and inactive lifestyle contributes to low back pain substantially.
What if my pain isn’t improving?
Back pain works very much like the red engine dashboard light in a car. When the engine is not functioning properly the light on the dashboard lights up. With back pain it is the same thing — the red dashboard light is the back.
To fix the light, we must fix the engine — the engine is the whole body. In the past many sufferers from back pain have thought their problem is in the lower back, and most treatment has occurred here. Yet in as many as 75 per cent of cases the problem occurs elsewhere, other than the back. In only 25 per cent of cases does the problem actually occur in the lower back, therefore causing pain here.
Your pain might be coming from somewhere else, and the only way to properly diagnose the problem is to seek treatment. But expect results: you should expect progress in three sessions or fewer — if there’s no progress then get a second opinion.