My back’s been hurting often lately, which makes me think how many of us have back pain at some point in the life journey. Maybe you’ve known someone else who was dealing with back pain.
How would you (or they) feel if a friend offered the following advice?
Back pain? Keep moving!
That’s probably the last advice I want. How about you? Do you want to keep moving when your back hurts? I want to lie very still or sit motionless.
Back pain – keep moving advice sounds so counterproductive!
My current back pain hit when I tried to stand after sitting on the couch for two hours. Wham! I hadn’t been lifting anything. I hadn’t been moving the furniture, or twisting. I was just sitting, enjoying a restful evening. I had no idea why my back screamed with pain, but it did.
In that moment, I wanted just one thing and it wasn’t to keep moving.
COVID-19 lockdowns negated the possibility of seeking medical help. My primary physician had gone out of business shortly after the pandemic hit, so I couldn’t even call her for telephone advice.
I did have some help of sorts. Most of us know about common remedies for back pain, and I thought what you’ve probably thought when your back hurt.
You think about pillows – lots of pillows. You think about using an ice pack. You wonder if the hard floor or a piece of plywood on the bed would help. You think about digging out your heating pad for relief.
Look on the Internet, and you’ll find those common remedies and more. It won’t take you long to conclude that they all have one thing in common. They prescribe bed rest. They call for lying still in bed until the back pain subsides.
You know what I mean if you’ve ever been desperate to get help for back pain. When you do lie down, you still can’t rest because the pain persists no matter what position you adopt. Eventually, you fall asleep exhausted.
The next day, you may feel better for a short while, but back pain is persistent. It doesn’t go away quickly in most cases.
Back to bed – hoping against hope that bed rest will take away your back pain.
You do need rest when you have back pain. Rest allows your body to heal, but complete rest is a mistake. A slow, careful stroll can be a better remedy.
It’s important for you to maintain as much of your normal activity as you can without discomfort. When you get up and move around, walking indoors or outdoors, you ease stiffness and relieve back pain.
Back pain relief achieved by remaining immobile will be long in coming, according to experts.
Back pain – keep moving is, experts tell us, the very best remedy.
Norma Turvill, a physiotherapist with Forth Valley Back Pain Service said during Back Care Awareness Week in Scotland (October 8-12, 2007): “… movement and exercise are a very important part of staying healthy.”
Turvill went on to say about back pain,
“As physiotherapists we spend a lot of time telling people how important it is to keep active and encouraging them to find some form of regular enjoyable exercise.”
Both physicians and therapists say that even when you do have back pain it’s better to do gentle stretching exercises than to remain motionless. It’s better to get up and take a brief, slow walk than to stay in bed.
I’ve written elsewhere on a variety of appropriate movements – back pain exercises. I hope to incorporate that in future posts.
The important concern right now is to use gentle exercises, and continue on a regular, daily basis to build strength into your back muscles. You need little or no equipment for most back pain exercises. You just need determination.
Add Hot and Cold
When used in conjunction with gentle, slow movements and careful exercises, hot and cold packs can relieve your back pain further.
- Heat relaxes back muscles by dilating blood vessels. The dilated vessels supply more oxygen to the affected area, which reduces muscle spasms and relieves the back pain. Use a heating pad on medium high setting, or a hot compress from a first aid kit. Be careful when applying heat to your lower back. Prolonged periods of constant heat to the lower back region can adversely affect organs in the abdominal area. Do not sleep with a heating pad on your back. Do not apply heat more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
- Cold reduces the inflammation of back pain. Injury or arthritis usually has inflammation, and cold decreases the blood vessel size, decreasing blood flow to the area. Applying cold compresses or ice packs to the back pain area is helpful. If you have no regular ice pack such as is sold in pharmacies, wrap a bag of ice, or a bag of frozen peas, in a towel and apply it to the back pain. Do not apply to bare skin, and do not apply more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
- Alternating heat and cold is probably the best way to relieve back pain. Each has its purpose, and you will benefit from both.
Apply medium heat for 20 minutes, and then do a few slow warm-up exercises, followed by stretches. Add a brief walk at a comfortable speed.
End your session with cool-down exercises, and 20 minutes with a cold pack.
Back Pain Relief While You Heal
Stop and think about it.
Your back will likely heal without a surgeon’s intervention. While it heals, you can relieve back pain by combining a variety of techniques.
For most back pain, engage in a program of rest, hot and cold compresses, exercise, therapy, and pain medication to relieve pain while you heal.
Stretching exercises are important, even though you may feel as though you don’t want to move when you have back pain. Exercises reduce stiffness, and may relieve compression on the spine. Exercises will also strengthen core muscles to prevent further injury and back pain.
If your back pain is severe, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. This will include exercises, and massage to relieve the back pain. The value of massage is in its ability to stimulate blood flow to the affected area, and relax back muscles.
Finally, you may want to use non-prescription pain medication for back pain. Medications such as acetaminophen are meant for general back pain relief.
Back pain demands that you keep moving and find some form of regular enjoyable exercise to strengthen your back against future pains. The foregoing information is for educational purposes only. Please see your doctor if your back pain remains after a couple of weeks, or if you have other accompanying symptoms.
~ Please note that the author is not a licensed medical practitioner and accepts no liability for individual use of this information.