Low back pain is one of the most common reasons people visit the doctor or miss work. It’s estimated that at least eight out of 10 individuals experience low back pain at some point in their life. And, for 16 million Americans, those episodes are chronic or persistent, meaning it’s more than just an ache here or twinge there.
Now, with Americans spending more and more time at home (and perhaps being less active) because of the COVID-19 pandemic, back pain is affecting even more individuals. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take from home to help find relief from back pain.
Salman Hemani, MD, interventional pain and spine specialist, shares his top tips to help ease back pain.
1. Stay Active
Regular physical activity helps strengthen your muscles, including those that support your spine.
“When you don’t get the exercise your body needs, the muscles in your back and spine become weak,” Dr. Hemani explains. “That causes less support for the spine and leads to long-term pain.”
Even those suffering from back pain benefit from regular exercise. Aim for a low-impact activity, like walking, yoga or swimming for 30 minutes at least three days a week.
2. Stretch and Strengthen Those Low Back Muscles
Your core, which includes your abdominal muscles and even your hips, helps provide strength and stability to your spine. Spend time on exercises that strengthen and stretch your ab muscles, like yoga or tai chi. If yoga or tai chi is out of your comfort zone, try a few gentle stretches throughout the day to help loosen and strengthen the muscles that support your spine.
A rolled-up towel can also help relieve tension in your back. Lay down on the floor and place the towel under your pelvis. Relax your hips over your towel. This simple movement can help loosen tight muscles in your lower back.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Extra pounds means extra pressure on the body, including the spine. Dr. Hemani says, “Weight loss can really help improve back pain because it reduces the amount of mechanical force onto the spine.”
Your primary care physician can help you develop a plan to help you safely lose weight. A healthy weight will also help improve your overall health, reducing your back pain and risk of serious health conditions.
4. Practice Proper Posture
Sitting and standing straight keeps your spine in alignment, which in turn reduces the pressure in your lower back. Make an effort to pay attention to your posture throughout the day:
- Keep your head up and shoulders back when standing or walking.
- Feet should be flat on the floor when sitting.
- Sit upright with shoulders relaxed and body against the back of your chair.
It’s also important to get up and walk around for a minute or two when you’ve been sitting at your desk all day long. Throw in a couple of stretches and really get your blood moving.
5. Use Ice or Heat
An ice pack or heating pad may help you find some relief from low back pain. Generally, ice can help reduce pain caused by inflammation or swelling. Heat can relax tight or stiff muscles.
Dr. Hemani recommends trying heat and ice to see which one helps you best. But, he cautions to only use them for 20 minutes at a time and to skip both approaches if you’re using creams or ointments on your back.
6. Try Over-the-Counter Medications
You may also be able to find relief with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), like ibuprofen or Aleve, or acetaminophen (Tylenol). An NSAID goes to work by reducing inflammation in your body, which can be a common trigger of back pain. Acetaminophen may help relieve pain, but it won’t reduce inflammation.
Another route to try is creams or ointments you rub directly on your back where you feel pain. These might help provide temporary relief when your back is stiff or sore.
7. Quit Smoking
Smoking has far-reaching negative effects on your health, including weakening the spine and taking away nutrients in the discs that cushion your joints. In fact, research indicates smokers are four times as likely to experience degenerative disc disease or other spine issues.
8. Consider a Supplement
Eating a well-balanced diet that focuses on fruits and vegetables is the best way to get your body the nutrients it needs. Some nutrients (and spices) can affect your back:
- Vitamin D strengthens bones, including your spine.
- Magnesium supports strong muscles.
- Tumeric (a spice) may help calm inflammation.
If you think you’re not getting enough of one of these nutrients, talk to your doctor. You can work together to create a plan that’s safe and effective for you — and your back.
About Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center
Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center offers a full range of services to diagnose, treat and repair bones, joints and connective tissue, like muscles and tendons. Our team puts your health and well-being first. Part of our commitment to patients is making sure you receive the care you need when you need it.
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