If you’ve been living with chronic back pain, New Year's is the perfect time to make a few simple changes to try and get 2016 off to a good start.
Learn More: Techniques for Effective Exercise Walking
Take a look at these tips, and try adding at least one of these to your list of resolutions:
- Walk at least several times weekly.
Regular low impact aerobic exercise is thought to reduce inflammation, strengthen your muscles and provide expedited healing by sending oxygen-rich blood to the painful area.
Some of our forum members with chronic pain have suggested walking as a meaningful, low-impact aerobic exercise. For success with a walking routine, some forum members advise you to:
- Invest in the right pair of walking shoes. To do this, go to a local running specialty shop. Ask the sales staff to watch you walk and help determine your level of pronation, the angle at which your feet turn in stride. Finding a shoe that matches your stride may help distribute weight across your body evenly, reducing stress on the back.
- Build walking into your daily schedule so you can’t easily skip it. For example, walk to the train everyday or walk during your lunch break.
- If walking is difficult due to leg weakness and/or balance, try getting a cane or walker and walk inside (such as in a mall) where there are fewer tripping hazards.
- If walking is too jarring on your spine, consider walking on a treadmill that affords a more padded, forgiving surface and will be less jarring on your spine. If a treadmill is still too harsh, consider walking in a warm pool—the water will support most of your body weight and take pressure off your spine.
- Get at least eight hours of sleep each night.
Studies have shown as many as 66 percent of individuals with chronic back pain are also living with sleep disorders. If you’re struggling with getting to sleep or staying asleep, these ideas may help:
- Practice sleep hygiene—a routine or series of habits engaged in before bed each night—to train your body into readiness for sleep. This may include such steps as regulating the time you go to bed and wake up, taking a hot bath before bed every night, blocking out noise with a fan or sound machine, or what the lighting and temperature are in your room each night.
- If you haven’t fallen asleep after 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something else. Waiting in bed to fall asleep may boost your stress levels, making achieving sleep even more difficult.
- Consider taking a natural, over-the-counter sleep aid, such as melatonin or valerian root. Melatonin is generally considered more helpful if you have trouble falling asleep. This makes it an appealing option for jet lag or if you have a changing schedule, such as shift work. Valerian is considered more useful in helping you stay asleep. It does smell, but is inexpensive and studies have shown that it is effective for many people.
Each person will have their own personal preferences to fall asleep, and there is no one right method for everyone. Discuss taking any new medications, such as those described above, with your doctor before use.
Watch: Insomnia and Back Pain Video
- Quit smoking.
Studies have shown that smokers experience back pain more frequently than non-smokers.
Quitting smoking can be highly challenging but is definitely worth the effort—here are a few suggestions may make the process smoother:
- If you associate other habits, such as drinking coffee, with smoking, replace those habits with new ones. For example, if you buy coffee and smoke every morning, buy tea instead.
- Consider using medications to help curb your cravings, such as Zyban or Chantix.
- For the first few weeks of not smoking, limit your exposure to friends or family who smoke, in order to resist temptation.
Most importantly, don’t put off quitting. Set a date and stick to it. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your back.
- Spend less time sitting.
Sitting less is key to improving back health; one study found that just 66 fewer minutes sitting each day significantly reduces back and neck pain while also improving your mood.1
Having a lengthy commute and a desk job doesn’t have to mean sitting all day. Some of our forum members reduced their time spent in a chair with the following methods:
- Use a laptop stand or standing desk at work as opposed to a traditional desk. The discs of your lower spine are compressed up to three times as much while sitting, so standing at work can relieve pressure on the spine.
- Get up every hour, even if just to get a drink of water. In addition to breaking up the day, this habit will keep blood flow to the muscles in your back more active.
- Give up your seat on the train to someone else. While standing on public transit may not be ideal, it can be good for your back after sitting for most of the day.
If at all possible, try to resist the urge to sit down immediately upon arriving home, as well. Using part of your afternoons or evenings to be active is not only a great start to the new year, but can be very helpful for your back.
Depending on your individual level of fitness, you may want to start out walking only a few minutes at a time, and gradually—over a period of several weeks and maybe even months—try to walk for at least 30 minutes at least 3 or 4 times each week.
Do you have a new year's resolution not shown here that might help with relieving back pain? We’d love to hear about it. Leave us a comment on our Facebook page, and don’t forget to follow the page.
- Pronk NP, Katz AS, Lowry M, Payfer JR, "Reducing Occupational Sitting Time and Improving Worker Health: The Take-a-Stand Project," 2011. Prev Chronic Dis 2012;9:110323