You bend down to pick up a pen, or reach for a pair of shoes in the top of your closet, and are suddenly gripped with a severe pain in your back. What do you do? Most back pain responds to the following approaches to treatment:
1. Rest up
According to current clinical practice guidelines, you can rest for a day or two while the pain is acute, using pillows to keep you in a more comfortable position.
2. Do cold, then hot
Use a cold pack to reduce inflammation for the first few days, then switch to a heating pad or hot water bottle to help relax tense muscles and improve blood flow to the area.
3. Get expert advice
Talk to your doctor about a referral to a physiotherapist or chiropractor. Either can suggest back-friendly stretches and activities and can physically evaluate and manipulate your back. Massage or acupuncture treatments may also help loosen tight muscles and soothe painful spasms.
4. Start moving
Resume your normal activities as best as and as soon as you can. After a couple of weeks, include gentle exercise such as stretching, walking, yoga or swimming.
5. Work out with weights (but talk with your doctor first)
Experts stress that choosing activities you enjoy and will stick with is crucial, but some appear more beneficial than others. In a small 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, people with chronic low-back pain who did a supervised 16-week program of resistance training with weights had greater reduction in pain and disability and reported an improved quality of life, compared with people who did aerobic training for the same period.
Increasing muscle strength might help support the back, keeping ligaments limber. Exercise may also contribute to weight loss, which can reduce pain. Most importantly, physical activity improves psychological well-being, which can reduce fear and worry about pain and disability.
The Best Back Pain Remedy: Time
“The effects of any of these treatments are modest, but they will probably help you get to a positive outcome a little more quickly,” says Michele Crites Battié, a professor of physical therapy at the University of Alberta. “Nature is still the best healer.” Battié herself experienced a six-week bout of severe back pain shortly after giving birth. “Knowing that back pain is seldom long-term really made a big difference, so it wasn’t frightening. It was frustrating and inconvenient, but I knew it had to just run its course.”
October 2010 issue of Best Health magazine