Eight of ten people in the United States have back pain at some point- trying hundreds of thousands of daily treatments – physical therapy, surgery, exercise, massage, pain management, chiropractic, acupuncture. Pain may reduce at the time because most movement makes you feel better, but the pain comes back because you have not stopped the cause. The answer is simple. People do an astonishing number of things every day to strain, weaken, and pressure their backs. They bend wrong hundreds of times every day. They do exercise with the same poor body mechanics. They stand, bend, sit, and lift wrong every day, hold muscles tightly while they move around, then do bad exercises that add to the strain. They may do “back exercises,” but not be aware that strong muscles will not automatically give you good posture, make you bend and lift properly, or make up for all the things you do the rest of the day to hurt your back. People wonder why they still get pain even though they “do their exercises.”
Back pain is not a disease or “condition” or something that once you have, you have it for life. It is an injury like a sprained ankle, that with a little common sense and information, can heal and you can be better than before. You do not need to give up impact activities like running or martial arts, give up weights or heavy occupational work, or activities you love to do. Not all exercise is healthy, just like not all foods – some are junk. You will get the built in exercise you need for health while you prevent the causes of most back pain. This is different from doing sets and reps of exercises, then going back to injurious daily habits. Back muscle pain, discs that degenerate bulge or herniate, facet injury, narrowing, and most joint injury are not the cause of the problem – they are the result of what you are doing to hurt your back – things you can fix yourself. Even when inflammation or immune response are identified, they are results, not causes.
- Ice it. Applying an ice pack to the painful area within 24 hours of an injury can help keep inflammation to a minimum and ease discomfort by decreasing the ability of nerves to send pain signals to the brain. Place ice cubes in a plastic bag, then apply the bag on top of a thin towel that has been placed on the skin. Leave the ice pack on for 20 minutes, take it off for 30 minutes, then replace it for another 20 minutes.
- Take a hot bath. If more than 24 hours have passed since the injury occurred, ice will not help reduce pain or inflammation. After that first day, heat may help increase the elasticity of the muscles somewhat, so try soaking in a tub of hot water for 20 minutes or more. Pregnant women, however, should not sit in a hot bath or hot tub for too long, since raising the body temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods may cause birth defects or miscarriage. If you are pregnant, contact your doctor for advice before trying a hot soak.
- Invest in a new mattress. A soft, sagging mattress may contribute to the development of back problems or worsen an existing problem. If a new mattress is not in your budget, however, a three-quarter-inch-thick piece of plywood placed between the mattress and box spring may help somewhat. It’s not clear whether water beds offer any relief for back pain.
- Get some sleep. Getting sufficient rest at night is important when your back muscles are strained. It’s best to lie on your side, with the knees flexed and a pillow between them. If you lie on your back, place a pillow under your knees.
- Get a massage. If you’re lucky enough to have an accommodating spouse, friend, or roommate, ask him or her to give you a rub down. As you lie face down on a bed or sofa, ask your masseuse to knead your back muscles. Local massage therapists may also make house calls if you don’t feel able to visit one of them. Check the yellow pages for listings or ask your doctor or a friend for a referral.
- Relax. Much back pain is the result of muscles made tight with emotional tension. Learn and practice a relaxation technique, such as meditation, or try a deep-breathing exercise, such as closing your eyes, breathing slowly and deeply, and counting backward from 100.
- Take two aspirin. Taking an over-the-counter analgesic such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen may help relieve your pain. However, be aware that not all medications, not even nonprescription ones, are for everyone. Pregnant women, for example, should not take any medication without first checking with their doctor. And people with ulcers should stay away from analgesics containing aspirin. Don’t take any medicine for a bad back without first learning about its potential side effects and talking to your doctor.