Our lives move at a frantic pace. We get up and rush to get ready for work. Rush to get the kids to school. Rush through the traffic. Rush to get all our work done before the end of the work day. Then we rush home to take care of our families, only to rinse and repeat the next day and the next. No one has the time to waste on sick days or unnecessary downtime, but that is exactly what happens when chronic low back pain strikes.
Back pain has a sneaky way of happening to you out of the blue. And it loves to pick the most inconvenient times, too. On vacation. Before a big interview. Just when our time is the most precious, this debilitating condition brings our lives to a grinding halt and there is often little that we can do about it. The good news is that most acute low back pain will resolve on its own, given a bit of time. The old advice from doctors was that you were supposed to rest. The new research has some slightly different advice. No more lying in bed, but you also shouldn't be considering any major activities that your body is not used to. So what should you do when low back pain strikes, and what can you do to get back on your feet as fast as possible? Our latest blog looks at the top 10 tips on how to relieve low back pain fast.
Low back pain will affect 80% of us at some point in our lives and it is one of the main causes of missed work days and for doctor visits. Low back pain also has a knack for showing up more than once during our lives. 20% of people who experience an episode of low back pain will probably encounter it again at some point. You might be one of the lucky ones whose back pain resolves quickly. 80% of people experience acute pain that generally resolves within a few days but that still means using a few days of PTO that could have gone toward something fun, like a vacation or long weekend. While most people end up missing a couple of days of work, those working in physically demanding jobs, such as nursing, have been reported to miss up to 12 days of work!
It comes as no surprise then that people often want to know what they can do to speed up their recovery. Other than taking large doses of painkillers and masking the pain, what else can you do to get back on your feet ASAP? Here are some simple things that experts recommend you do each day to try and get your body back on track.
Saw that one coming? That’s because international guidelines for low back pain unanimously agree that this is one of the very best things you can do to relieve low back pain. Gone are the days of lying on the couch, waiting for your back pain to pass. Research has shown us that the best way to get your back better fast is to keep moving. This doesn’t mean run a marathon or find the closest Crossfit class. Gentle strengthening and low impact activities such as walking, yoga, swimming, or tai chi are the top expert recommended exercises for low back pain. When you exercise you help drive blood and oxygen to your muscles which improves blood flow and circulation to your muscles, and it helps to loosen them up. Engaging your core muscles in order to support your back is also key. When pressure is placed on the wrong muscles, that is when sprains and strains occur. Strong core muscles ensure that pressure is not placed on the wrong muscles, and weight is evenly distributed.
Over The Counter Medications
While healthcare professionals around the world agree that opioids are not the way to go for most back pain cases (they actually only provide pain relief for less than 30% of non-cancerous pain issues!), taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory may help reduce initial inflammation and swelling of the back muscles. NSAIDs can be tough on the stomach so it is best to keep use to a minimum. It is also important to make sure that you don’t mask the pain so much that you end up over-doing it.
Many people who use medication for their back pain say that they feel worse when the medication wears off, often because they have over-exerted themselves physically. Taking an NSAID when you first experience back pain can help with reducing inflammation and swelling. Medications such as acetaminophen can help with pain but do not help with inflammation, making NSAIDs the generally preferred product recommended by doctors.
Medicated Creams/ Topical Lotions
Topical painkillers, or analgesics, are sprayed on, rubbed in, or applied as patches onto the skin over painful muscles or joints. Although they are all designed to relieve pain, different products use different ingredients.
Counterirritants: create a burning or cooling sensation to relieve pain and discomfort (menthol, camphor and methylsalicylate)
Capsaicin: create a warm tingling or burning sensation that eases over time. (chili peppers)
Salicylates: same pain-relieving quality as experienced with oral aspirin (aspirin)
Topical painkillers can be a quick and effective way to reduce pain and inflammation at a specific site. Again, it is important not to mask the pain so much that you continue to put strain on your back and don't give your body the time it needs in order to heal from the initial injury or trauma.
Hot/cold treatments are often overlooked when it comes to treating low back pain. Easily accessible and highly affordable, these treatments can have significant benefits in helping to reduce pain and inflammation for back pain. The two treatments have different effects, so it is helpful to know which one to use when managing low back pain.
1. Use cold first and then apply heat for acute back pain.
If your low back pain is acute (less than 4 weeks in duration) and/or is caused by a trauma or injury, cold therapy is a good way to go. The cold temperatures will decrease swelling and inflammation by constricting the blood vessels. The cold will also numb the pain a bit.
Heat therapy is a good option once the inflammation has decreased. Heat stimulates the blood circulation leading to your muscles, warming the muscles and increasing flexibility. Heat also brings nutrients to the injured tissues.
2. Try continuous, low-level heat for subacute or chronic back pain.
For those suffering from chronic pain (more than 4 weeks) heat therapy can be used to keep the muscles warm, flexible and ensure that blood and nutrients are getting to the muscles. The best way to do this is to provide a constant heat to the muscles using items like a heating pad, a heated blanket, or commercial adhesive wraps.
3. Ice your back immediately after exercise to reduce muscle soreness.
We’ve all done it at some point or another. After weeks of putting off cleaning out the garage or not working out, suddenly we are determined that this is the time. We throw ourselves into spring cleaning or that spin class we have been meaning to try and we over do it. Our bodies are not used to it and we didn’t go into things slowly. Delayed onset muscles soreness sets in and continues to peak for a few days.
Using cold therapy for the initial pain and to reduce inflammation is key and then you can move onto the heat therapy to help your muscles recover faster.
Wear Better Shoes
Shoes? For back pain? It may seem like a strange suggestion but your feet are responsible for holding up the weight of your entire body. Your feet also absorb the shocks and bumps that happen through everyday movements. So it stands to reason that the shoes you chose to wear on your feet are extremely important. If your shoes don’t provide you with enough support, it can have negative consequences for your spine and your back. Misalignments and jarring can occur, often resulting in back and neck pain.
Top Shoe Tips For Back Health:
Avoid high heels. If you just can’t bring yourself to give them up, take frequent breaks or choose heels that are a bit chunkier and that can offer more even support.
Lose the Flip Flops. What? Your are probably thinking that they have got to be better than heels, right? Not necessarily. Flip flops are great at the beach but they don’t offer much in the way of arch support. There are companies that are making more supportive options (Oofos and Birkenstock) so look for those if you can’t bear the thought of having to give up your favorite summer sandals.
Avoid tight shoes - they increase the pressure on your feet.
Make sure your shoes have lots of cushioning to absorb the shock.
Make sure you are choosing the right size shoe and maybe get a professional fitting done.
Don’t forget to replace your athletic shoes regularly. They can lose their cushioning in as little as 3 months.
Practice Good Posture
Good posture is key for preventing low back pain. Poor posture puts strain and stress on your spine. Good posture ensures that each part of your body is properly aligned with the other parts. Proper alignment ensures balance and support which means that each part bears the weight that it is supposed to. When our bodies aren’t properly aligned, some parts end up carrying more weight than they should, which leads to improper wear and tear on our joints and can lead to injury. When your body is properly aligned, you should be able to imagine an invisible line going from your ear, past your shoulders, hips, and knees, and ending at the middle of your ankle.
Poor posture at work, especially when sitting at your desk for extended periods of time, can be especially damaging to your back. Products like the Upright Go can help you train your body to have better posture by making you aware of when you are slouching and when you need to correct your posture. It aims to change some of our bad postural habits which can be very effective in helping to reduce low back pain.
Stretching is one of the simplest and most overlooked ways to help prevent and reduce low back pain. When you stretch your muscles each day you help prepare them for any activity that the coming day might hold. Your muscles will be warm and flexible and less prone to injury.
Taking just a few minutes in the morning and doing some specific stretches for your low back can have big benefits for your back. Blood flow to the back muscles is improved, making them more supple and flexible and helping to reduce tension in the muscles. Generally holding a stretch for 30 seconds is key for maximum benefits.
This one sounds easier to do than it actually is. We often don’t realize just how much stress contributes to our health - or takes away from it. When we are feeling stressed or anxious, certain chemical reactions take place in our bodies, creating a very real, physical result. The hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released involuntarily causing your muscles to tighten. When this tightening happens too much, too often, or for too long, it can lead to chronic back and neck pain.
Unfortunately stress is an unavoidable part of our lives. If there is one thing we have learned this past year, it is that there are things that are totally out of our control. We can’t always change our situation but we can try to find healthy ways to cope with our anxiety and stress. Some positive ways to manage stress include: yoga, meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, connecting with friends and family, biofeedback, and talk therapy.
Hydration is an often neglected aspect of low back pain. Data shows that a shocking 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated! The discs that support our spine are filled with fluid which leaks out slowly during the day as the discs are put under pressure. The discs are designed to absorb the shocks and bumps that we encounter in our daily activities such walking, running, or even bending. If we don’t drink enough water then the fluid in those discs can’t be replaced with fresh new fluid and they end up shrinking and not absorbing the shocks as well. This puts the pressure on our vertebral bones, causing pain.
A lack of hydration throughout the body can also cause the muscles in your back to become stiff and sore. Stiff muscles can lead to painful muscle spasms. Making sure that you keep hydrated, especially throughout the hot summer days but also during the indoor heating in winter, can make a big difference in preventing low back pain.
Catch More Zzzs
The CDC reports that between 7-19% of adults in the United States are not getting enough rest each day. It is also estimated that between 50-80% of people who suffer from chronic pain also suffer from sleep problems. Sleep is essential for our bodies to heal and restore themselves. It helps our bodies cope with stress and it helps to reduce inflammation. But back pain can leave you tossing and turning all night, leaving sleep often out of reach of those with the condition. So how are you supposed to get a good night’s rest when you have back pain?
The sleep industry knows that this is a huge issue and, along with certain recommended sleeping positions, there is a plethora of products designed to try and help you get the sleep you deserve. From water pillows to memory foam mattresses, and pretty much anything else you can think of in between, there are tons of products designed specifically for sleeping with chronic back pain. Check out our holiday guide to see some of the amazing products that are available.
So there you have some of the top expert recommended ways of speeding up your low back pain recovery. Hopefully you have some good ideas on how to treat your next low back pain spasm, and you can implement some of these to get you back to your daily life as fast as possible. If your back pain persists, or if you have any red flags that accompany your back pain, you should set up an appointment with your healthcare provider to make sure that there aren't any other issues that might be causing your condition. We hope you find these helpful!