Tips on Self-Care and Prevention of Back Pain
- Total bed rest should be avoided. Severe pain limits movement, which can slow the healing process and can lead to the development of chronic (persistent) pain. Pain relief may allow more movement, lack of which can delay recovery. Sections below have information on both pharmaceuticals and natural remedies for pain relief. However, care must be taken do to overdo activity, and often certain activities should be avoided. Philip will advise on these.
- A good exercise program can help back pain and help prevent a re-occurrence. Philip may prescribe you specific exercises based on your personal bio-mechanics and injured tissues. An exercise that benefits one person with back pain could harm another person with similar symptoms.
- Posture and gait. With some back injuries you will find that you can't stand or walk straight. This is the bodies intelligence taking the weight off inflamed weight bearing tissues. Go with it and do not try to force yourself to be straight as this can aggravate things. You may find a walking stick helps. You will become straighter as your back heals.
- Sitting can aggravate some types of back pain. If this is the case, keep sitting and driving to the minimum and use a firm chair with lumbar support. When possible rest lying down with your knees bent.
- Ice is not recommended for low back pain. Although ice can help reduce inflammation, it also increases muscle tone, which is not helpful.
- Heat, such as a hot water bottle, heat pad or wheat bag, can be useful to help relieve tight painful muscles, but it should not be too hot, or applied for too long, as heat can increase inflammation, causing an aggravation of the underlying injury. As a guide, the temperature should not be over 60 degrees, and should not be applied for more than 30 minutes, with a 30 minute break between applications. Alternating hot and cold has been proven to be ineffective.
- A warm bath with a handful of Epsom salts is very relaxing and can give relief from back or neck pain. Epsom salts can be purchased from a pharmacy. They are magnesium sulphate. Some of the magnesium is absorbed into your muscles and helps relax them. Dissolve a couple of handfuls of the salts in some hot water in the bottom of the bath and stir until dissolved. Then add both hot and cold water until you have a warm but not too hot bath, and lie back and have a soak for twenty minutes. After your bath drink plenty of fluids.
- If you are overweight, loose weight. Being overweight affects the alignment of your spine and puts extra pressure on your discs. The more overweight people are, the more likely they are to have back pain. At any one time, 2.9% of adults of normal weight will have back pain. This rises to 5.2% in the overweight and 11.6% in the obese.
- Lifting: Don't lift objects that are too heavy for you. If you attempt to lift something, bend your knees and your hips, keeping your back straight, and lift with your knees and your hips with your stomach muscles tight. Keep the object close to you, don't stoop over to lift. Don’t twist while lifting.
- Beds: Individual needs vary. If the mattress is too soft or too hard, many people will experience backache. A mattress needs to allow the more prominent parts of the body to sink in and support the more hollow parts. If the mattress is too hard the person will have to sleep twisted in order to present a flat surface to the mattress. A worn or poor quality mattress will sag. A firm base is preferable. If you have a box spring base, a piece of plywood between the base and mattress will help. A mattress pad will help soften a mattress that is too firm.
- Stretching exercises such as yoga have been shown to decrease the incidence of back pain. A supple spine is less likely to be strained. Stiff joints will degenerate more quickly. Stretchable hamstring muscle give good hip movements, which save the back when bending and lifting.
- Exercising on an unstable surface helps strengthen the stabiliser muscles, which are also the muscles that help prevent injury. Examples are exercise balls, skateboards, surfboards, snowboards and skis. If resistance training in a gym, it is best to sit or lie on an exercise ball rather than be supported by a bench, and to use free weights, or to move weights via a cable, as then the stabiliser muscles will be used. To strengthen large muscles without also strengthening the stabilisers is to invite injury.
Pain killers do not give effective long term relief for persistent (chronic) pain. All of them can cause hyperalgaesia, which is when all pain is amplified, and some are addictive. Read either of these PDF's to learn how to manage persistent pain without drugs: