Back pain can happen all of a sudden, or can slowly creep up over time. It can be caused by major impact, like a car accident or work injury, or can come about from years of sitting or muscle strain. If you suffer from lower back pain, the first step is a trip to your primary care doctor. You and your doctor can develop a plan of action to feel better. We are also here to provide you with this guide of 5 lower back pain treatments that work.
Sometimes we just need immediate relief. While you never want to over depend upon medications, they exist for a reason: to help alleviate your pain. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naxproxen (Aleve) are available over-the-counter, and can help to relieve moderate back pain. Research suggests that these are better options for lower back pain treatment than acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Do be mindful that NSAIDs taken long-term can cause gastrointestinal problems, so please consult with your doctor if you find that you’re having to take them fore more than 10 days in a row. If this is the case, you will need to find another treatment option.
It might sound counterintuitive to exercise when your back is in pain; however, exercise can be one of the best practices for relieving back pain long-term. If it’s been a while since you’ve exercised, start with gentle stretches, walking or just getting up and moving if you find yourself sitting for long periods, especially if you work on a computer. Getting up and moving helps to stabilize any spinal imbalances and can alleviate muscle tension.
Yoga is also a great lower back pain treatment. A study in 2013 found evidence that yoga does, in fact, help to alleviate back pain. Start with a beginner’s course, and work your way up from there. Not to mention, yoga also has mental and spiritual benefits as well.
“People often get swept up in thoughts like ‘This will never get better.”
Visualization is a powerful tool in combating any kind of pain. Our minds often get focused on the pain, and we repeat that track in our heads. The first step is accepting that the pain is there, and then using the power of distraction to shift your focus. Often, simply removing your focus from the fear that’s associated with chronic pain can help you to immediately feel better.
“Fear, anxiety and catastrophizing can amplify pain,” said Sean Mackey, chief of the division of pain medicine at Stanford University. “People often get swept up in thoughts like ‘This will never get better.’” Tools like virtual reality and mindful meditation can work wonders in reshifting your focus, and therefore reducing pain.
Hot and Cold Therapy
If you’ve ever had a sports injury, you might be familiar with the 20 minute icing rule. Within 48 hours of the initial injury or onset of pain, grab an ice pack (wrapped in a towel if the coldness is too intense) and keep it on the area for 20 minutes, then go for 20 minutes without the ice, then 20 minutes with it back on. Ice is a powerful and often underrated tool in the treatment of pain.
After the first 48 hours, alternate every 20 minutes with ice and a heating pad. According to Lisa DeStefano, an associate professor at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in East Landing, localized cooling shuts down the capillaries and reduces blood flow to the area, both of which help to reduce swelling. Switching to heat actually loosens the tight muscles and increases circulation, which increases oxygen flow to the area.
Try a new Mattress
If you’ve been experiencing pain for quite some time, you may want to rethink your mattress. If your mattress is sagging or is more than five years old, you should definitely start mattress shopping, because it’s time for a new one.
Studies suggest that people with lower back pain should sleep on medium-firm mattresses rather than firm ones. The right fit for you will depend on your particular situation, so consult with your doctor and do your research before buying anything new.
For more on back pain and sleep, read The Best Sleeping Positions for Pain Management.
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