About 85% of the world’s population will experience back pain at some point in their lives and about 50% of us will experience it every year 1. It is very common to have aches and pains in the lower back and although the majority of back pain is not very serious it can be frustrating when it prevents you from doing the activities you love. The good news is that often times back pain will clear up on its own within a few weeks. That being said, here are 5 things you can do right now to help relieve that pain quickly and prevent it from happening again.
1. Use ICE instead of HEAT on your sore muscles. Many people will turn to the heat pack when their back flares up. This may make it feel good while the heat pack is on but once it is off the pain seems to come back. The reason for this is during an acute bout of back pain there is inflammation and applying heat will actually worsen it. Ice, on the other hand will control the inflammation which reduces pain. Ice may not seem as attractive as a heat pack especially in those winter months but it can really help with your low back pain.
The usual recommendation is to ice using a commercial cold pack or ice cubes in a dampened towel for the first few days you are experiencing pain. Put ice on for 10-15 minutes and take a 10-15 minute break and then repeat 1-2 times. Make sure to have a layer of towel or cloth between your skin and the ice.
2. Get moving. Bed rest is no longer a first line treatment for back pain. Much like heat, bed rest might feel good while you are resting however it will not help you heal faster. Walking is generally good for most types of low back pain.
Staying in good physical condition and having strong muscles will help you heal faster and avoid recurrences. We tend to use a pain rating scale from 1-10 when encouraging people in pain to exercise (0-1 being no pain at all, and 10 being worst possible pain). As long as the pain is under a 6 you should be able continue exercise.
That being said if you find yourself pushing through pain or your symptoms worsen, consult your health care practitioner for exercises and movements that are beneficial.
3. Find positions of relief and avoid aggravating positions. Similar to the last point. You should avoid positions that aggravate your back pain and move into positions that provide you with relief. Usually, the worst offenders are sitting in a slouched position or sleeping on your stomach. Whether at work, home, or sleeping it is good to have tools such as extra pillows and back rests to support your spine.
Additionally, I tell patients to avoid sitting for more than an hour. Set an alarm at your desk at work or when watching a movie to take a quick stretch break and get out of those aggravating positions.
4. Ask your pharmacist about over the counter pain relievers. In terms of medication, doctors recommend trying over the counter (OTC) options first. The back pain aisle of the pharmacy can be very overwhelming so it is best to ask your pharmacist. Generally, they will recommend ibuprofen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) for short term pain relief. Topical analgesics, such as creams and gels you rub on your skin, can also help reduce joint and muscle pain and there are many OTC options. Topical analgesics are meant to provide short term pain relief and should not be taken for more than 7 days unless your doctor says otherwise.
With all forms of medication, side effects due to other drug interactions, allergies, and other health conditions can occur. If you find yourself reaching for these products more often due to your back pain then it may be a sign you should explore other options for relief.
5. See your chiropractor: Back pain is common it should go away on its own over a few weeks by utilizing the above techniques. Although some individuals are resistant to seeking help, it is always best to see a professional to help you with your pain. If your pain doesn’t go away, gets worse, travels into your leg, or if you are feeling unwell your back pain may not be as simple as sore muscles. A Chiropractor will perform a detailed examination and recommend any additional tests or imaging if required. They can help educate you and provide you with many techniques such as spinal manipulation, exercises, and other proven modalities to help relieve your back pain and prevent further recurrence.
If you want to know more about what the chiropractors at All Systems Performance and Chiropractic can do to help you see our previous blog post by hitting the link below. Don't hesitate to give us a call.
Hoy D, Bain C, Williams G, et al. A systematic review of the global prevalence of low back pain. Arthritis Rheum. 2012; 64(6):2028-2037.