Top 10 Tips to Manage your Back pain
Back pain will affect up to 80% of us in our lifetime. There are different types of back pain, the two main types being Acute and Chronic. Acute or short-term back pain is the common type and usually resolves itself in 3 days to 6 weeks. On the other hand chronic back pain exists if pain and symptoms persist for longer than 3 months.
Depending on which phase you’re in, there are different ways to manage your back pain. Therefore it is always best to seek advice from a healthcare professional that can make a proper diagnosis to help guide you through proper treatment and recovery.
In the meantime, here are my top 10 tips for you to help manage your back pain:
- Sit for short periods of time. Your back wants movement and sitting in a chair for an extended period of time puts your back into a loaded flexed position, which your spine will not like. Try to change positions every 30-40 minutes by standing up, going for a little walk, or grabbing a glass of water. While you are sitting for short periods, you want to make sure you sit with good posture and proper lumbar support. This will help decrease the load on your back. Make sure to visit your physiotherapist so they can prescribe an appropriate lumbar support specific to your needs.
- Apply heat to the affected area. By using heat you are helping to decrease muscle spasm and improve blood flow through the body. Try using a wheat pack or a hot water bottle for 20 minutes or as often as required. Just be sure to place something between your skin and the heat pack to prevent any skin burns.
- Find a comfortable sleeping position. It is important to sleep with proper support so if you like to sleep on your side, place a pillow between your legs to take off any extra pressure through your hips and lower back. If you prefer sleeping on your back, place a pillow or rolled up towel underneath your knees so they are propped up allowing your lumbar spine to relax in a neutral position. These small modifications can help ease any pressure on your spine.
- Take Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as recommended by your healthcare professional. This type of medication is commonly used to manage pain and inflammation associated with musculoskeletal disorders such as your back pain.
- Avoid prolonged positions such as sitting, standing, lying down etc. This ties in with not sitting for long periods of time. Change the position you’re in by taking breaks, doing a quick stretch or going for a short walk. If you’re in an office setting talk to your managers about investing in adjustable desks, that way you can vary your positions from sitting to standing with the press of a button. We love our adjustable desks at POGO as it makes a tremendous difference by having the option to change positions.
- Keep moving! Exercise will boost the blood flow to your back and promote healing. Although your body may be telling you to just lie in bed all day, your back needs you to keep active. If you let your back play into the “sick role” you are feeding into the idea that bed rest is fine. The best thing you can do for your back is to go for a walk. It doesn’t need to be a long strenuous hike, but a light 20-30 minute walk will do both your body and mind a favour by keeping them happy. Exercise has been shown to release endorphins, which stimulates that euphoric feeling. Endorphins act as both a painkiller and as the pay-off for your body’s reward system. So keeping active will help to ease your back pain.
- Stretch. Your back is made to move, bend and twist. Often our muscle will become tight due to any back pain you are experiencing. The feeling of tightness is trying to warn us that there is lack of blood flow, especially to nerves, which are blood thirsty. Your muscles are asking you to help stretch them to increase the blood flow to the area and lengthen the muscles that are tight. Daily stretching can help protect your back in the long run.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Weight is not an easy topic to discuss, but it must be addressed. Being overweight puts strain on your back muscles. We all have an ‘ideal frame weight’ and if we have an excess of your ideal frame weight we are putting more strain on our body and potentially putting your body at risk for injury. If you are overweight, working on trimming down can reduce your chance of getting back pain.
- Set yourself goals. Your motivation to want to be pain free should be directly linked to a plan of action. If you’re not clear on where you are going and how you are going to get there, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely). The best way to do this is to set short, intermediate and long-term goals. For example a short-term goal may be, “I want to establish a back exercise program, slowly increasing my repetitions to 10 over the next 2 weeks.” And to achieve these goals, setting a daily goal that you write down will keep you in line with the bigger picture. Such as “Today I am going to walk for 30 minutes in the afternoon.” Then you can check it off.
- Breathe! Mindful breathing can help connect the mind to the body. When we have back pain we tend to tense and contract certain muscles, which may aggravate the issue at hand. If we practise simple breathing techniques it allows your body to relax. Understanding how your muscles contract and relax and how your joints move and bend will help focus your attention away from your pain. In addition, it can be an effective tool to manage your anxiety and negative thoughts towards your back pain.
Good luck on managing your back pain! Remember to visit your physiotherapist for a detailed assessment who can guide you on the correct path to having a happy and healthy back.
Natasha Chan (APAM)
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