Unfortunately for the millions of people suffering from chronic low back pain, there is no one certain cure. The key is to find what works for you, often through trial and error.
Medical approaches usually focus more on addressing anatomical problems in the lower back, but treating pain is often more than just treating the medical issue. For best results, try a well-rounded approach.
We've borrowed these tips to reduce or relieve lower back pain from our readers. Try them out, and let us know which ones work for you.
- Release your inner endorphins
Endorphins, hormones made naturally in the body, can be just as strong as any manufactured pain medication. When endorphins are released in the body, they help block pain signals from registering with the brain. They also help alleviate anxiety, stress, and depression, which are all conditions that are often associated with chronic back pain.
- Read more: Depression and Chronic Back Pain
Try the following activities to release these feel-good messengers:
- Get restorative sleep
Out of all medical conditions, pain is the number one cause of insomnia. Approximately 2/3 of patients with chronic back pain suffer from sleep disorders. Paradoxically, inadequate sleep can make back pain worse. This vicious cycle makes it ineffective to treat just one of the problems. Both the sleep problems and the chronic pain need to be treated.
There are many options for treating sleep problems that accompany chronic lower back pain:
- Relaxation techniques
- Psychological techniques
- Cutting back on caffeine
- Eating the correct foods
- Getting the right amount of exercise
- Writing your worries down
Often, a combination of approaches will work best.
- Exercise your core
The muscles in your abs and back play a critical role in supporting the lower lumbar spine. These muscles don't get a good workout in most people's normal day. Consumer Reports reported that in retrospect, 58% of people with back pain wished they had done more back strengthening exercises.1
There are many simple exercises that can be performed in 20 to 30 minutes as part of a daily routine.
- Soothe the pain with temperature
Don't underestimate the impact of regularly applying cold packs and/or hot packs to help reduce lower back pain and help the healing process.
Cold application has two primary benefits:
- It reduces inflammation, which usually occurs with back pain.
- It acts as a local anesthetic by slowing down nerve impulses, which keeps the nerves from spasming and causing pain.
Homemade ice and gel packs are a simple, affordable way to relieve chronic back pain.
Heat application has two primary benefits:
- It stimulates blood flow, which brings healing nutrients to the affected area of the low back.
- It inhibits the pain messages being sent to the brain.
Heat can come in many forms, and it's best to try several to find what works best for you. Taking a hot bath or shower, soaking in a hot tub, or using a heating pad, hot water bottle, or wrap that provides continuous, low level heat are all ways to bring healing warmth to your lower back.
- Stretch your hamstrings twice daily
One of the easiest things you can do to help alleviate lower back pain is to gently stretch your hamstrings. Tight hamstrings place additional stress across the lower back and sacroiliac joint, leading to more pain. Hamstring stretching should be done at least twice per day.
There are many gentle stretching exercises that should not hurt.
- Engage your brain
Pain specialists have long understood that pain is more complicated than just a sensation. The way the brain interprets and processes the pain signals plays an important role in how people perceive their pain.
- Read more: Modern Theories of Chronic Pain
The good news is that you can develop skills for your brain to reduce or ignore the pain signals. Developing expertise in these skills can go a long way to help you have more influence over the pain.
- "Relief For Your Aching Back: What Worked For Our Readers." Consumer Reports, March 2013. www.consumerreports.org.
Bonus Tip: find activities that make you happy
Ongoing pain can wreak havoc on your life, affecting your cherished relationships, finances, and/or productivity at work and at home. It can also interrupt your sleep and destabilize your mood. Because many other problems commonly occur along with chronic lower back pain, anything you can do for yourself that is a natural anti-depressant will help.
Some people find that even doing just 3 things that make them feel good each day, such as enjoying a good cup of coffee, talking on the phone with an old friend, walking the dog, or receiving a 30 second hug from a loved one can make chronic pain more tolerable.
The tips in this blog are simple ways to help your spine and back stay in alignment and maintain a stronger, healthier you. Even if you are in severe pain and are undergoing extensive medical treatments, we encourage you to still try to remember the simple things you can do for your back to help it heal and get stronger and healthier over time.