Tips for managing lower back pain
How to manage lower back pain
However healthy your lifestyle may be, muscular lower back pain is bound to affect you at some point.1 In fact, around three quarters of people will experience lower back pain at some time during their life, whether it’s from overstretching, lifting something heavy or just overdoing it at the gym,
The back is an amazingly complex structure, packed with muscles, ligaments and tendons and the framework that makes it possible to bend, walk, swim and move. Like a Swiss watch, the upper and lower back rely on many smaller components to work seamlessly together and therein lies the problem. Even a small amount of damage to these interconnected parts can lead to considerable pain and discomfort.2
Thankfully, there are many ways to ease lower back pain and even prevent it from returning.
Easing back pain
The 24 veterbrae of the back work around the clock to support the weight of the upper body. Running through the middle of these vertebrae is the spinal chord. This acts like a telephone line from the brain to carry messages around the body. In between each verterbrae are shock absorbing protective pads known as disks. While the body is busy carrying the shopping or helping the children tie their shoelaces, these discs help cushion the verterbrae from knocks and bumps.
Back pain can be caused by a sprain or strain in any of these interconnected areas.
<diagram of back and close up of vertebrae>
If sudden back pain strikes, it is easy to think about lying down and taking the pressure off but experts now recommend staying active and wherever possible, carrying on as normal.3-6
This could be as simple as walking around the house or carrying out daily activities. The main thing is to keep moving. Regular stretching and exercise may also help speed up recovery and in the long-term, strengthening exercises will help to give the spine extra support. You can find out more about these in the article: Tips to Help Strengthen Your Back. Though, it is often better to take care when exercising and choose low-impact activities, like walking or swimming.1
“The main thing is to keep moving.”
You might find your back pain makes it difficult to exercise. Pain relievers can help relieve this pain and improve overall mobility. Medical guidelines worldwide recommend paracetamol as the pain reliever of choice for acute low back pain3,6 and it is best to take paracetamol regularly during pain to help keep it under control.
Experts also advise applying heat to the affected area, for example, with heat patches or blankets.4,5
Other things that people with lower back pain find helpful include
- spinal manipulation, such as chiropractic and osteopathy1 4,6,7
- transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which sends mild electrical impulses into the nerves in the skin, helping to block pain signals.1,6
Keeping back pain at bay
From breakfast to bedtime, the back works non-stop. These are some ways to help prevent back pain from recurring
- Keep moving. Activities such as swimming and walking can both help improve muscle strength, flexibility and endurance.8
- Manage your weight. Being overweight puts additional pressure on the lower back.8 Read more about this topic in the article
- Quit smoking. Smoking is believed to cut off the blood supply to the discs in the back, making it more prone to damage.8
- Sleep on your side. Sleeping on your side is the best position for the back8 and minimizes the strain on the neck.
- Sit upright. Slouching or hunching over can stress or pull back muscles causing pain.8 Read more about this topic in the article Using Better Posture to Relieve Back Pain.
Changing the habits of a lifetime can take time and it will take practice to learn how to sit, stand and lift properly. Likewise, it might be a struggle to quit smoking or lose weight, but the end result - a life where you can help control back pain - is well worth it.
*THIS IS GENERAL INFOEMATION AND CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR OR PHYSIOTHERAPIST BEFORE STARTING ANY MEDICINE OR EXERCISE.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Low Back Pain Fact Sheet.
- NHS Choices. Back Pain. March 2010
- Van Tulder. M. et al. European Guidelines for the management of acute non specific low back pain in primary care. Eur Spine J. (2006) 15 (Suppl 2) S169-S191.
- Chou R. et al. Diagnosis and Treatment of Low Back Pain: A Joint Clinical Practice Guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. Annals of Internal Medicine. p478- 491
- Australian Acute Musculoskeletal Pain Guidance Group. Evidence Based Management of Acute Musculoskeletal Pain. June 2003.
- National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Low Back Pain. Early Management of Persistent Non-Specific Back Pain. 2009
- Arthritis Research UK. Back Pain. Available at: http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis_information/arthritis_types__symptoms/back_pain.aspx#non. Accessed August 2010.
- American Pain Foundation. Spotlight on Back Pain. Life-style tips. Available at: http://www.painfoundation.org/learn/programs/spotlight-on-back-pain/lifestyle-tips.html. Accessed August 2010.