If you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from lower back pain, you know that there is often not one surefire treatment that cures the pain. The truth is that managing back pain is often a process of trial and error and you will likely have to try several options to see what works best for you.
Medical approaches usually focus more on addressing the anatomical problem in the lower back. However, treating pain is often more than just treating the anatomical issue and a more full, well-rounded approach often works best.
The following is by no means a comprehensive list of all you can do, but rather some information and tips that you may find useful in adding to your efforts to reduce and influence your lower back pain.
- Release Your Inner Endorphins
Endorphins are the body's natural pain relievers, and they can be as strong as many of the strongest pain relievers. They are chemicals that occur naturally in the body, and when released they help block pain signals from registering with the brain. Endorphins also help alleviate anxiety, stress and depression -- conditions that often turn a chronic back problem into a life problem.
The body produces endorphins during aerobic exercise. A “runner’s high” is not just for those running long distances -- any activity that gets your blood pumping for a sustained period will release pain relieving endorphins into your system. Try to incorporate any form of exercise that is tolerable into your daily routine - water therapy is usually tolerable for those with severe back pain, or walking if the pain is not too severe. A treadmill has less impact on the lower back than walking on a sidewalk.
In addition to exercise, other activities can also help release endorphins, such as massage therapy, breathing deeply, meditation and acupuncture.
- Get Restorative Sleep
Of all medical conditions, pain is the number one cause of insomnia. Approximately two-thirds of patients with chronic back pain suffered from sleep disorders. In turn, inadequate will make the back pain worse. The vicious cycle that develops makes it ineffective to treat just one of the problems – both the sleep problems and the pain need to be treated.
To treat the many forms of sleep problems that accompany chronic lower back pain, many options are available such as medication, relaxation techniques and other behavioral and psychological techniques. Often a combination of approaches will work best.
- Exercise Your Abs
Unlike the major arm and leg muscles, the core muscles of the body, the ab and back muscles, don’t get much use during normal daily activities. However, they play a critical role in supporting the lower back. If they are not actively exercised on a regular basis, more strain will be place on the lower back.
In retrospect, 58% of people with back pain wished they had done more back strengthening exercises.1
These exercises are simple and can be performed in 20 to 30 minutes as part of a daily routine.
- Soothe the Pain with Ice and Heat
Many people underestimate the impact of regularly applying forms of cold packs and/or hot packs to help reduce lower back pain and help the healing process.
- Ice application. Back pain almost always comes with some level of inflammation, and ice is the best natural way to reduce it. Ice also helps by acting as a local anesthetic, and by slowing the nerve impulses, which in turn interrupts the pain-spasm reactions between the nerves in the affected area. Often the back spasms can be the most painful aspect of one’s back condition, so any natural, free, readily available approach to reducing the spasms is a good option. See Ice Massage for Back Pain Relief.
- Warmth. Heat application has two primary benefits: 1) it helps blood circulate in the affected area of the low back, and blood brings healing nutrients, and 2) 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: a hot bath, shower, hot tub, a heating pad or hot water bottle, or a wrap that provides continuous, low level heat. See Benefits of Heat Therapy for Lower Back Pain.
- 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 twice daily. Tight hamstrings place additional stress across the lower back and sacroiliac joint, leading to more pain. There are a lot of options to stretch the hamstrings, including several gentle options that should not hurt.
Hamstring stretching should be done at least twice per day. To help remember, it is a good idea to associate the stretches with another activity, such as stretching when you brush your teeth in the morning and evening, or when you first get to work in the morning and before you leave in the evening.
- Engage Your Brain
Pain specialists have long understood that pain is more complicated than just a sensation, like a vision, but rather how the brain interprets and process the pain signals also plays an important role. Read more about this role in Chronic Pain as a Disease: Why Does it Still Hurt?
The good news here 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. Please see Chronic Pain Coping Techniques - Pain Management.
Bonus Tip: Find Your Smile
Ongoing pain can wreak havoc on your life, eventually moving from being an isolated problem – just the back pain – to becoming a life problem, affecting your cherished relationships, your finances, your ability to be productive at work and at home, interrupting sleep, or destabilizing your mood. Because these problems so 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 are good for you each day, such as enjoying a good cup of coffee, a phone call with an old friend, or a 30 second hug from a loved one.
The topics discussed here are simple ways to help your spine and back stay in alignment and maintain a stronger, healthier you. Even if you are in very bad 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.
- "Exercise Therapy: Back-pain sufferers wish they had worked out more", Consumer Reports