Back pain, and more specifically lower back pain, is one of the most common health complaints for adults in the U.S. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, roughly two thirds of Americans live with lower back pain and 37 percent don’t see treatment.
The pain ranges from mere discomfort to more severe and constant pain. If left untreated, back pain can prevent people from comfortably walking, standing or running, and can even affect a person’s overall mood and well-being.
The good news for those who experience acute, frequent back pain is that in many cases, it can be easily managed and resolved within a matter of weeks. Plus, there are a variety of changes you can make in your everyday life to prevent back pain from reoccurring.
Common Causes of Back Pain
Back pain can stem from any number of issues. Acute back pain, which is sudden and typically lasts less than six weeks, is often the result of overuse or an injury, such as herniated disc, muscle strain or sciatica.
Chronic back pain, which is less common and has a duration of more than three months, is often the result of a spinal condition, like degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis.
Risk factors can also play a significant role in causing back pain. When an injury hasn’t occurred, back pain may be attributed to:
- Lack of exercise
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet
- Poor posture
How you manage back pain symptoms will depend on what caused them. It may be best to first seek the opinion of a medical professional to help determine the cause before you add any unnecessary stress to your back that could worsen your symptoms.
Exercise – It may seem counterintuitive to work out while your back is in pain, but light aerobic activity is sometimes just what a tight or tender back needs. In fact, bed rest or prolonged inactivity often exacerbates acute back pain. It’s important to start small. Try activities like walking, riding a stationary bike or swimming to increase blood flow to the muscles in the lower back, hips, and buttocks.
Medication – Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can provide temporary relief to help manage pain while you’re at work or trying to sleep. Just remember these types of drugs only mask the symptoms and do not correct them. You may want to try using an ice pack or heating pad to relieve pain and swelling in the affected area in conjunction with pain medications.
Physical Therapy – If you’re having trouble completing exercises on your own due to severe pain or reduced mobility, a physical therapist can get you started by walking you through strength exercises that are catered to your specific needs. Talk to your primary care physician about beginning your own physical therapy treatment.
Change Up Your Sleep Routine – Yes, even how you sleep could worsen or improve your symptoms. Try sleeping on your side with a pillow or folded blanket in-between your legs so the spine stays straight. If you have trouble sleeping on your side, you can sleep on your back with a pillow or blanket underneath your legs to keep them elevated. This helps the spine maintain its natural curve during the night.
Tips for Avoiding Back Pain
Stay Active – It’s been estimated that more than half of back pain sufferers remain seated at work for most of the day. Staying physically active is one the easiest things you can do to avoid developing back pain that’s caused by long periods of inactivity. It could be as simple as taking a daily walk during your lunch break or going for a hike on the weekends, as long you get your muscles and joints moving regularly.
Change Your Diet – Because your lower back carries so much of your body weight, being overweight increases the likelihood for muscle strains in the lumbar area. Improving your eating habits helps with weight loss, which goes a long way toward preventing future back pain.
Improve Your Posture – If you sit at a computer for long periods of time each day, remind yourself to sit up straight. When you allow your shoulders, neck, and spine to droop over a keyboard or phone, you’re inviting painful pressure and tension on the muscles. If you have trouble remembering to keep straight, try attaching a lumbar cushion to your chair for added support.
Reduce Stress – Remember, your mind and body are a team. When you’re stressed out, your entire body feels the effects, often resulting in tense back, neck and shoulder muscles. Yoga is often recommended because it simultaneously reduces stress while improving your body’s core strength and flexibility. You could also try deep breathing or find a relaxing activity you can lean on regularly, like journaling, reading a book or listening to music.
Receive Professional Medical Care
Though acute back pain can often be managed and avoided through different exercises and lifestyle changes, many more severe back injuries require fast, professional medical attention. The team at Complete Care provides expert emergency care for fractures, sprains and other back injuries, and does not have the lengthy wait times patients typically experience at large hospitals and other medical facilities.