Your Back Hurts, Now What?
The Best Possible Ways to Treat Your Lower Back Pain
Back pain, especially in the lower back, is extremely common in the general population. Approximately 25% of Americans report having low back pain in the past three months and up to 84% will experience it at least once in their lives. So if you're dealing with low back pain right now, you're not alone.
Low back pain can be caused by a variety of problems with the many structures that make up the complex spine. Younger adults (ages 30-60) are more likely to experience low back pain from conditions that affect spinal discs such as lumbar disc herniation or degenerative disc disease, or strains of back muscles or tissues. Older adults (over 60), on the other hand, usually deal with pain from the wearing down of joints with conditions like osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis.
Stay active without adding to your pain
Most cases of low back pain are mild and will improve on their own by making some basic changes in your daily habits. If you're experiencing any type of low back pain, unless it's severe, here's how you should deal with it:
- Stay active: don't fall victim to the temptation of limiting or stopping most activities and resting your back at all times; it might sound appealing, but too much rest without activity can actually make your recovery more difficult
- Choose exercises wisely: try to stick with low-impact exercises like swimming, brisk walking, biking or yoga to maintain fitness without straining your back
- Avoid aggravators: stay away from high-impact exercises like running/jogging, tennis and basketball, as well as contact sports; also avoid any heavy lifting, bending or twisting the back or anything else that can make the pain worse
- Practice proper posture: use good posture at all times, especially while sitting at a desk: feet flat on the floor, knees bent at 90°, back straight, shoulders square and computer at or right below eye level
- Ice: apply ice to the sore region of your back for 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times a day
- Support: Wear a back brace to support your back as you move about daily
Physical therapy for additional care
For long-lasting (chronic) low back pain or pain that doesn't subside with these lifestyle changes, a physical therapist can help with additional treatments and exercises. The goal of physical therapy is to reduce pain, increase function and prevent recurrence, and treatment usually consists of:
- Stretching exercises for the buttocks, spine and hamstrings to keep joints flexible
- Strengthening exercises to build up the muscles in the back and core
- Passive treatments like massage, manual therapy and ultrasound
- Education and guidance on how to improve your posture and make other necessary changes that may be contributing to your pain
Physical therapy is regarded as an effective treatment for most cases of low back pain and will usually lead to notable improvements. Surgery should only be considered in extreme circumstances when all other conservative (non-surgical) treatments have failed to elicit a positive response.