Featured Stories | Understanding & Coping With Lower Back Pain
As people age, normal wear and tear on the body can result in muscle and bone deterioration.1 Injuries and trauma can also cause low back pain—for example, simply lifting a heavy suitcase into the trunk of a car may strain the back and result in persistent pain.
Lower back pain can also be a sign of a more serious underlying problem, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, or a herniated disc. In addition, obesity, poor posture, smoking, stress, and a poor sleeping position can all contribute to low back pain.2
According to Dr. Perry Fine of the American Pain Foundation, “At some point in life, almost everyone experiences lower back pain—the key is to treat it correctly so that it doesn’t become a recurring problem. It’s important to seek out a healthcare professional who can properly assess your condition and work out a pain management plan. Be sure to ask questions about your symptoms, how to manage your back pain, and activities you can do or shouldn’t do.”
What You Can Do to Manage Lower Back Pain1
- Rest1 – but only for a short time: Resting sore muscles can help to ease pain, but remain mobile. Staying in bed more than one or two days can actually make your pain worse and lead to other problems, such as stiff joints and muscle weakness.
- Apply ice and heat1: Although ice and heat (the use of cold and hot compresses) have never been scientifically proven to quickly resolve lower back injury, compresses may help reduce back pain and inflammation, and allow greater mobility for some individuals. As soon as possible following trauma, patients should apply a cold pack or a cold compress (such as a bag of ice or bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel) to the tender spot several times a day for up to 20 minutes. After 2 to 3 days of cold treatment, they should then apply heat (such as a heating lamp or hot pad) for brief periods to relax back muscles and increase blood flow. Warm baths may also help relax muscles. Patients should avoid sleeping on a heating pad, which can cause burns and lead to additional tissue damage.
- Medication1: A combination of prescription and over-the-counter medications are often used as part of a treatment plan for lower back pain. Your doctor will decide which option (if any) is best based on your medical history, allergies, and other medications you may be taking. Everyone’s pain is unique and different. Your doctor may switch your pain medication—or try a combination of medications—to find the right fit for you.
- Exercise1: Exercise that strengthens back and abdominal muscles can help with recovery and prevent pain in the future. These core muscles support the spine, and building them up can improve posture, maintain balance, and decrease your chance of injury. Your healthcare provider can provide a list of exercises to fit your needs.
- Massage Therapy2: Massage therapy is effective in reducing pain, stress, and symptoms associated with chronic lower back pain. Massage therapy can be used as part of a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to pain management and may be combined with physical therapy, acupuncture, and medication.
Strategies for a Healthier Back1
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Excess weight, particularly in the abdomen, increases stress on lower back muscles. Your doctor can help identify a healthy weight that is right for you.
- If you have been inactive for a long period of time, it’s important to begin a low-impact exercise program to strengthen your back. This may include yoga, fast walking, biking, or swimming.
- Always stretch before exercising or performing any physical activity that may be demanding.
- Don’t slouch—it increases pressure on the back.
- Good footwear is important. Wear shoes that are comfortable and low to the ground.
- Do not lift objects that are too heavy for you, like boxes or furniture. If you must lift, bend your knees, don’t twist your body, and keep your head pointed down and in line with your back.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low-Back Pain Fact Sheet. June 14, 2010. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/detail_backpain.htm. Accessed October 7, 2011.
- Hernandez-Reif M, et al. Low back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. 2001;106(3-4):131-45.