Alongside neck and knee pain, lower back pain complaints are some of the most common. The lower back is not as well supported or protected as the upper back – and because its primary source of support is the core muscles of the body, the lower back is one of the first and most common casualties of a sedentary lifestyle, as well as decades of hard manual labor. No wonder four in five people in the US will experience back pain at some point, regardless of gender or background. But why and how do you treat it? Continue reading to learn how to relieve lower back pain.
Why Does Your Back Hurt?
Aging plays a significant role here – while the lower back may be more susceptible to injury due to poor posture or shearing forces, our spine naturally weakens.
Poor lifestyle choices can speed things up, dehydrating the force-absorbing discs between our joints and increasing the risk of bone fractures due to bone density losses. Staying active and eating healthy can slow these losses and reduce risk – but age does take its toll on the back, one way or another.
Another common problem is an inactive lifestyle. The body likes to move, yet few of us move enough. Spending too much time sitting can lead to nerve compression and sciatica-like symptoms (numb feet and legs, shooting pains, and weakness in one leg or side). Getting your daily steps in – day after day, and not just on a weekend basis – can help prevent back injuries and improve the rate at which the back recovers from pain.
Obesity can also play a role in back pain and BMI. Not only is muscle denser, and it alleviates pressure from the joints when the body goes through an active range of motion, whether walking up the stairs or carrying a heavy object. Higher body fat, on the other hand, may stress the back by placing additional weight on the spine throughout the day.
Then, there is a myriad of conditions that affect the back. In addition to basic wear-and-tear – such as osteoarthritis – the back can be affected by osteoporosis and compression fractures, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis (a slipped bone), disc herniation (from an injury or car accident), growths along the spine, benign or otherwise.
How to Relieve Lower Back Pain by Yourself
Identifying the cause of your back pain alone can be difficult. Sometimes, potential causes of future back pain go unnoticed and remain asymptomatic for months at a time (such as a fractured spinal joint or a herniated disc). All it takes is a single lousy twist or getting out of bed the wrong way to kickstart the pain.
Home remedies can help. Pain management is not always about alleviating the source of the pain but addressing the pain itself, so other therapies that might help the core causes can be incorporated without long-term discomfort.
Nevertheless, some home remedies are counterintuitive to each other. For example, some people will experience more significant relief putting their back through spinal extension (stretching backward), while others feel better going through spinal flexion (bending forwards). Some people respond better to heat therapy, while others prefer cold therapy. It all depends on what’s really causing your pain and your preferences.
Your best bet for lasting pain relief is to talk to a medical professional and seek a referral to a spine specialist or pain clinic.
Back Pain Can Worsen at Night
If your pain worsens in the morning, it might be a good sign that you must address how you sleep. If you have never thought about sleeping positions and habits before, now may be an excellent time to note how you tend to fall asleep.
Sleeping on your side can exacerbate your lower back pain if it causes your spine to bend in a way that aggravates a swollen disc or pinched nerve. Sleeping on your stomach can force your neck into an awkward position, affecting the rest of your back. The wrong mattress can make matters even worse.
Look into different pain-relieving positions and experiment. Lower back pain can often be alleviated by sleeping on your back, with a cushion under your legs to elevate them slightly.
How to Relieve Lower Back Pain? Exercising!
One of the easiest answers on how to relieve back pain is committing to doing simple exercises. Moving your back through pain-free ranges of motion helps you safely strengthen the muscles of the core and back. Over time, your tolerance will improve, and the additional blood flow to the area surrounding your back pain can speed up recovery.
Regarding minimizing the risk of re-injury, load management is everything. If you have a history of lower back pain, you will want to keep an eye on how you feel between sessions before going up in weight for exercises that require a lot of core stability and bracing, such as lifting.
Don’t Stay Still
Bed rest is no longer professionally recommended outside of acute back injuries. If your lower back pain has been a chronic and recurring issue, your doctor is more likely to recommend light exercise and the services of a trained physical therapist than giving your back a rest.
But seeing a PT once a week might not necessarily put you on the best track to recovery. If you have an active manual labor job and are taking a break to heal, try to stay moderately active throughout the day.
Don’t go back to work or dedicate your time to kneeling in the garden all day but try to get a few steps in or go for a daily walk. If you have an office job, try and set a timer to get up off your chair at least twice an hour, and take a short walking break or do a few slow, dynamic stretches.
Is the Pain Improving?
Doing something is often better than nothing, but it’s easy to do the wrong thing when it comes to pain management. Even something as common as lower back pain has well over a hundred different possible causes, most of which are impossible to rule out without a thorough and individual checkup. And while many cases of back pain can and do go away on their own, some back pain can become chronic or worsen over time. If it worsens, your doctor will evaluate the treatment options depending on the underlying cause, severity, and individual factors. Some examples of treatments include
- Indirect decompression
- Peripheral nerve stimulator
- Spinal cord stimulation
If you have been experiencing lower back pain for multiple weeks, or if your back pain has become considerably worse recently, please consult a doctor. These tips can be useful, but medical intervention is necessary to truly treat your pain and learn how to relieve lower back pain. If your home remedies and solo solutions aren’t bearing fruit, it’s also a good idea to talk to a medical professional.
When it comes to back pain, you’re not alone. Individual pain management plans may include at-home exercises, stretches, and appointments with professionals such as chiropractors and masseuses, as well as learning how to relieve lower back pain through specific techniques and treatments. Still, they also involve physical testing, screening for certain co-occurring conditions or possible causes, and imaging to identify potential spinal issues, ranging from a narrowing spinal shaft to a misaligned or swollen disc.