Second only to headaches as the most common neurological condition, lower back pain affects nearly everyone at some point in life. Low back pain is a leading cause of missed workdays and difficulty completing the daily activities of daily life.
The good news is that most low back pain goes away within several days. Short-term - a.k.a. acute - low back pain is usually attributed to some sort of trauma (sports injury, housework, heavy lifting, or car accident), a medical problem (osteoporosis, diabetes, pinched nerve, disc disease, or arthritis), or other condition (obesity, stress, smoking, poor posture, or scar tissue from a previous injury). The pain may be shooting or a dull ache and it may limit your range of motion.
The bad news is that while most bouts of lower back pain passes quickly, some episodes of back pain take much longer to heal and may lead to other serious conditions. Occasionally, the pain becomes chronic, lasting for more than three months. This pain slowly worsens and the cause may be unknown.
What can you do to relieve low back pain? And if you’re prone to back pain, what steps can you take to prevent future episodes?
If you experience low back pain, you don’t have to head to the doctor right off the bat. Often, you can use a few common home remedies to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and restore range of motion. When three days of self-care doesn’t reduce the pain, seek medical attention. Now to the DIY care!
To reduce pain and inflammation, apply a cold compress to the area for 20 minutes several times a day for two to three days. Then apply heat (hot pad, warm bath) to relax muscles.
If pain interferes is debilitating, one to two days of bed rest may help. Bed rest for longer than this may be counterproductive and actually worsen pain. Resume light activity as soon as possible.
It may surprise you, but exercise may be the best remedy for low back pain. Exercise helps strengthen your back and abdominal muscles. Start slowly with stretching exercises and low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, or Yoga. If pain worsens or isn’t relieved, stop exercising.
Pain medications are helpful to relieve acute and chronic back pain. Try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as naproxen, ibuprofen, or aspirin. You may also find topical pain-relieving sprays or creams helpful in reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the area.
If you’re prone to frequent back pain, here are some steps to lessen your chances of it reoccurring.
This may be a no-brainer, but the first step to reducing your risk for back pain is to avoid or change the activities that cause you pain. Whether it’s heavy lifting, bending over to tie your shoes, or reaching up into a high cabinet, find someone who can assist you with those pain-inducing tasks. If your back aches in the morning, try sleeping with a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back, or between your knees if you prefer your side. If sitting for long periods flares your pain, place a small pillow behind your lower back against the chair.
To lessen your chances for low back pain, improve you posture. Sit and stand up straight. Also, regular exercise, including strength training to strengthen your back, core, and leg muscles. Exercise will also improve your posture.
On top of bad posture and a lack of exercise, stress can make your muscles tense and lead to low back pain. Unfortunately, this pain can lead to additional stress - a vicious cycle! In the event excessive stress is a part of your life, learn how to manage it with relaxation techniques.
Finally, if possible, wear low-heeled shoes instead of high heels, and quit smoking. The toxins from smoke lessen your pain tolerance, lead to osteoporosis, and decrease circulation, all of which contribute to low back pain. And keep a healthy weight, as carrying extra weight - especially around your waist - places a strain on your back.