Low back pain is a very common issue. Some people may think that seeing a doctor is the only road to back pain relief. But, going to a doctor many times results in a quick prescription for muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory agents, the chronic use of pain pills, unnecessary testing or procedures, or, worse yet, surgery.
As a neurologist having treated low back pain for over 30 years, my experience proves that though prescriptions for drugs and procedures may provide temporary back pain relief, they won’t solve the problem and the pain will continue and recur. More times than not, your lower back pain is caused by a person not knowing how to use the muscles they have to protect their backs. Rather than rushing to medications, there are some simple steps you can begin today to provide you back pain relief.
5 tips you need to know to avoid back pain, or manage it if you have it.
1. Work on Your Posture
There’s a reason your mom always said to sit up straight! Fixing your posture, especially while sitting can lead to lower back pain relief. Why? Extension of the lower back when you’re sitting (when there’s the highest pressure on your intervertebral discs) will distribute your upper body weight between your vertebral bodies and their discs, and the posterior arch, that forms the back of the spinal canal where the spinal cord and nerves run before they leave the spine and travel into the legs. Pressure is thus removed from the discs of your lower back, protecting it from pain.
2. Work on your core muscles
The transverse abdominis, the lower muscle across the front of your pelvis, is what you want to strengthen in the front. This muscle balances the short multifidus muscles between the posterior arches of your spine. Both muscles are extremely important in protecting your lower back.
This doesn’t mean to just start doing more crunches. In fact, sit-ups and crunches are found to be unhelpful and at times detrimental for people with lower back pain. Instead, focus on exercises and movements that protect your spine and use all the muscle groups of the core.
3. Use your glutes for everything
Whether it’s getting up out of a chair, walking, stooping or stabilizing your back when you have to bend, engage your glutes! Most people become quadriceps dominant over the years. Sometimes, even the exercises we do at the gym emphasize these already-overused muscles. This overuse makes the quads short (especially if you don’t stretch them) and forces your pelvic bones to tilt forward. This means you have to overextend your back when you stand or lie on your back. Extension—good. Overextension–bad. By using your glutes for everything, they can act as hip extensors, and balance out shortening of your hip flexors that is so bad for your back.
4. Hip flexibility is key
Stretch your glutes, pyriformis (a small muscle located deep in the buttock), hamstrings, and quads. Doing so will take extra stress off your back. Exercises such as lunges, will help strengthen your hip stabilizers. Remember — the low back and the knees are innocent bystanders to hip flexibility and stability. A good physical therapist is a great help to instruct you how to do these critical maneuvers. This approach is long lasting, and not the quick but always temporary fix of “popping” your back.
5. Change Your Sleep Position
There is link between sleep, sleep position and your back. It turns out that sleeping on your back, with a pillow underneath your knees, results in the least pressure on your back, and allows it to heal. When you sleep on your side or tummy, then asymmetrical pressure is always placed on your back and disc rehydration cannot take place. Can’t sleep on your back? If you have to sleep on your side or tummy to sleep at all, whether it’s because of snoring or possibly a problem with your breathing during sleep, then your should consider having a sleep study done to find out what is causing your sleep problems.
When It’s Time to See A Doctor
Though I firmly believe the above tips will help provide back pain relief for many patients, there are also cases that are more serious and do require medical attention. The key to back pain management is knowing when it’s time to see a diagnostic professional. And never see a surgeon first!
As a general rule of thumb, you should visit a specialist about your back pain if:
- Your back pain persists or recurs
- You’ve had cancer previously
- The back pain radiates into your buttock or down your leg
- You develop weakness or numbness of one or both legs
- You experience problems with your bladder
For help on what type of specialist to see, what to expect when having your back pain diagnosed and ways to save money when having your pain evaluated, check out my post Chronic Back Pain Relief. The 5 Facts You Should Know Before Getting Tested.