The little things we do every day to stay healthy really add up. The healthier your habits, the easier it will be to help keep your back and neck healthy, and minimize painful episodes.
Sitting is stressful for your spine. Recent health news is buzzing about how sitting too much can cause an early death. Consider getting a sit-to-stand desk at work. At the very least make sure you are getting up and walking around every 30 minutes.
When you are sitting, make sure you have the right setup. Make sure your knees are slightly higher than your hips, push your office chair right up to the desk, support your arms with armrests to avoid neck strain, and make sure there is support for the inward curve in your lower back. These and other adjustments can help your back feel much better after long periods of sitting.
- To learn more, see Office Chair: How to Reduce Back Pain? and Ten Tips for Improving Posture and Ergonomics.
One of the most important things for your back is to learn is how to lift properly. This takes more than just bending your knees—you need to keep your chest forward, keep the weight close to your body, lead with your hips (not your shoulders), pivot instead of twist, and more. Some specific techniques, such as a golfer’s lift, can also help in certain situations.
We say this often, but it bears repeating: The natural stimulus for the healing process is active exercise. Movement keeps the discs, muscles, ligaments, and joints in the spine healthy by distributing nutrients into the disc space and soft tissues. For many back conditions, strengthening exercises for the back and abdominal muscles are important to alleviate pain and prevent future painful flare-ups. There are a number of very specific strengthening programs (such as the McKenzie Method and dynamic lumbar stabilization exercises) which are usually best learned with a trained health professional.
Inactivity can aggravate your back condition by leading to stiffness, weakness, and deconditioning. If you have a disc problem, significant inactivity deprives the injured disc of essential nutrition and this can lead to further degeneration and pain. Additionally, movement maintains the exchange of fluids in spinal structures, which in turn reduces the swelling that occurs in the tissues surrounding an injured disc. This is important because swelling can further irritate nerves that are already affected by the highly inflammatory herniated disc material and make the pain worse.
Apply heat therapy
Using heat therapy on your back can provide both pain relief and healing benefits for many types of lower back pain. In addition, applying a heating pad, heat wrap, warm gel pack, or taking a hot bath feel good and are easy to do on a daily basis. Some people find more pain relief with heat (either moist heat or dry heat) and others with ice. The 2 therapies may also be alternated.
A long-term study has shown that smoking actually leads to lower back pain. The theory is that smoking causes damage to the vascular structures of the discs and joints in the spine, resulting in degenerative spinal disorders and lower back pain.
- See also Does Smoking Cause Low Back Pain?
Emotional support will help you during your "bad" days. Maintain the relationships you have with your friends and family by making an effort to stay in touch with them and seeing them when you can. Participate in our online forums to connect with people with similar conditions who know what you are going through.
The least you can do
If you do nothing else for your back, at the very least stretch your hamstrings twice each day and get about 30 minutes of low-impact aerobic exercise every other day. Avoiding activity because of a painful back can lead to a downward spiral of physical deconditioning, loss of participation in daily activities, depression, more pain, and more, so it is very important to try to take care of yourself and stay active.