With little to do and nowhere to go, your options to relieve back pain may feel limited. It’s difficult to schedule a therapeutic massage or engage in past times that might previously have helped deal with episodes of pain, like a short walk through the park or a quick dip in the local pool.
For some, it’s proving difficult to maintain fitness motivation or to quit snacking out of boredom. With bad habits catching up and few other ways to deal with pain and frustration, chances are your lower back pain has made a strong comeback during this lockdown. It’s more important now than ever to have a concrete action plan to relieve lower back pain.
1. Take Short Breaks From Sitting
With many offices closed, some of us are tasked with working from home. And while the lack of a commute and no need for formal attire can make the idea of a home office quite appealing, the lack of any sort of structure or proper work schedule also means we are potentially spending more time glued to our screens than before.
It’s good to keep the mind occupied and busy during a time like this but find a way to remind yourself to take plenty of breaks. Not only do we often tend to sit in a fashion that can cause pain, but prolonged sitting can exacerbate back pain even with good posture.
Muscles like the hip flexors get tighter and tighter, while your glutes, which should cooperate with the hip flexors in maintaining a neutral tilt of the pelvis, get weaker. The result is a habitual pelvic tilt, which affects how your spine stacks. Keep your lower extremities engaged and stand up for short walking or standing breaks often.
2. Limit Bed Rest
A little bed rest does the body well, especially if you’ve been hurt recently. But too much bed rest coupled with poor sleeping positions can make lower back pain even worse. Prolonged periods of inactivity serve to severely affect your mood (which has a direct and marked effect on the severity of your pain perception).
In addition to that, it also causes important muscle groups to atrophy, and weaken, at a rate of about 12 percent per week. This loss in strength will affect muscles that should be working to support your spine and avoid the kind of compression that causes extra pain.
3. Use Back Support When Sitting
Back support can be useful when we cannot remind ourselves to sit up straight and brace our core. Consider purchasing a work chair that lets you lean back while offering mid-back support, between your thoracic and lumbar spine. Avoid chairs with aggressive lumbar padding, as they may not be appropriate for your spinal curvature.
Memory foam lumbar support can help as well, as it conforms to your spine’s natural curve. The idea here is to ensure that your spine remains neutral while you’re sitting, to avoid extension or flexion that might place more stress on the discs between your vertebrae.
4. Learn to Brace Your Belly
One way to help relieve lower back pain in the long-term is to learn to engage and brace the core musculature while sitting and exercising, just as one would under a heavy load. Your core is more than just your abdominal muscles, and your abdominal muscles serve to do more than just lengthen and contract.
Your core musculature consists of a complex set of muscles around your entire midsection, including the lower back. The primary function of the core is to protect the spine from excessive loads and facilitate the transfer of energy (i.e. swinging a golf club).
To functionally strengthen your muscles and relieve lower back pain, focus on anti-flexion and anti-rotation exercises. Such exercises can help stiffen the muscles around the spine. These include:
- Side planks
- One-sided carries (like carrying a grocery bag while trying to keep the torso stiff and straight)
- And so on
If you have a light resistance band, consider exploring exercises such as the Pallof press, and anti-rotation band holds. Other exercises train the core indirectly, including light Goblet squats (with a small weight held under your chin), one-armed presses (overhead, while keeping ribs from rising and glutes squeezed), and hip exercises (glute bridges and Good Mornings).
Be sure to call your pain doctor or specialist and discuss these exercises, or any training program, before attempting any workout for back pain relief.
5. Move or Exercise a Few Minutes a Day
Even if you can only handle a small selection of exercises, it would do your body good to go through them at least once a day, or a few times a week (for longer sessions). Refrain from doing anything that hurts. Exercises can lead to muscle soreness, especially if your body hasn’t adapted to a new movement, but that kind of pain is different.
If an exercise feels “wrong” or uncomfortable, especially in your joints or back, consider a lighter weight or progression or skip it altogether. If you are experiencing all-encompassing or severe pain, or numbness, do not hesitate to call a doctor and seek immediate medical attention.
6. Stretch Selectively
Stretching can be both a good thing and a bad thing, just like exercising. Depending on the cause of your pain, some stretches may serve to bring relief, while others can make the pain worse. Speak with your doctor or spine specialist about a shortlist of stretches to help relieve pressure on the spine.
It helps to understand where the origin of your pain is. If, for example, your pain originates in the lumbar region and is caused by a compressed nerve, then stretches that flex that portion of the spine can help relieve pressure, such as forward bends and Child’s pose. At the same time, avoid stretches that call for lumbar extension, such as the Cobra pose.
7. Address Your Eating Habits (If Applicable)
If you’ve put on a few pounds since the lockdown started, and are subsequently experiencing more back pain, consider reintroducing some healthier eating habits and cut down on your snacking. The temporary indulgence might help keep you sane.
However, in the long-term it will bring more misery than it’s worth. Extra pounds can add more stress to the spine, and that stacks up day after day. It’s better to find other positive low-calorie coping mechanisms.
Lower back pain affects roughly 65 million Americans, and given our current mobility restrictions, it’s hard to avoid being sedentary, which often makes the pain worse. Nonetheless, these tips can help you seek both immediate and long-term relief. If possible, consult your spine or pain specialist for more information.