Back pain is one of the most common health problems among adults today. Recent studies actually show that one in four Americans have reported recent bouts of pain or discomfort in the back. And health experts even say that almost everyone can expect to experience some back pain at one point in their lives.
Back pain is caused by a number of reasons, like the lifting of heavy objects or degenerative conditions like arthritis. Unfortunately, even if back pain is common, it can be hard to get rid of. If you frequently suffer from mild levels of pain in your lower back, there are some home remedies that can help ease the discomfort. Try any of the following to manage back pain at home.
- Put ice on it.
Ice is helpful in reducing inflammation as long as it’s applied in the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury, says E. Anne Reicherter, PHD, PT, DPT, associate professor of Physical Therapy at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Reicherter says that though the warmth can worse the inflammatory process, even though a hot water bottle on your sore muscles feels good because it helps cover up the pain and relax your muscles. When 48 hours have passed, you can switch to heat, if you prefer.
Whether you use an ice pack or a hot water bottle, it’s important that you take it off your skin after 20 minutes to let your skin rest. If the pain persists in your lower back, it might be time to talk to your doctor.
- Be physically active.
“Our spines are like the rest of our body — they’re meant to move,” says Reicherter. Even with pain in your lower back, try to go through your normal everyday routine. Do your chores around the house, keep going to work, or even do some yardwork if the pain doesn’t significantly increase during these activities. Swimming, cycling, and walking keep your back more mobile, so these are great for when your back pain isn’t particularly severe.
Make sure to not overdo it, though. You won’t need to run a marathon to keep the back pain at bay. A moderate amount of activity is enough to keep your back mobile and help ease lower back pain.
- Do exercises that work your back muscles.
Try to do back exercises, if your back pain isn’t at severe levels. This can help you avoid future episodes of back pain by strengthening the muscles that support your lower back, including the back extensor muscles. Reicherter says that these exercises also help you maintain proper posture and ensures that your spine is properly aligned. Hamstring stretches, partial crunches, wall sits, bridging, and knee-to-chest touches are all excellent workouts for your back muscles.
In addition to exercises for your back muscles, you might also want to do exercises for strengthening muscles in your hips, pelvic area, and abdomen. Avoid crunches, though, as these can actually put more strain on your back.
- Stretch throughout the day.
Stretching is particularly important if your job requires you to sit in your desk chair all day. Try to get up every 20 minutes and stretch your back the other way. “Because most of us spend a lot of time bending forward in our jobs, it’s important to stand up and stretch backward throughout the day,” Reicherter says.
Remember to stretch your legs, too. Health experts say that some people are able to ease their back pain by doing a stretching routine, like yoga, daily.
- Make sure your workspace is ergonomic.
Look around your office and make sure your computer is properly positioned so that you don’t have to hunch forward to look at your monitor or reach too far out to the side to use your mouse. Your desk chair makes a difference, too; make sure the chair you use provides support for your lower back, keeps your knees level with your hips, and lets you work with your feet planted firmly on the floor. Place a cushion between the curve of your lower back and the back of your chair, if needed. This ensures that your back is minimally strained as you work.
- Fix your posture.
Having proper posture puts the least amount of strain possible on your lower back. Slumping actually makes it more difficult for your back to support your weight. It’s also important to be aware of your posture when lifting heavy objects. Rather than bending over from your waist to life that heavy box, bend and straighten from your knees. This can help you avoid throwing out your back when lifting heavy objects.
- Wear low heels.
For many women, an outfit just isn’t complete without a pair of towering high heels. Unfortunately, chiropractors say that high heels, like those measuring three inches or higher, can create a more unstable posture and put more pressure on your lower spine. So you might want to exchange your four-inch pumps for flats or sandals. If you feel that your shoes must have a bit of height to them, make sure the heel height doesn’t exceed an inch or two.
- Stop smoking.
Smoking has many negative effects on your health, including an increased risk for osteoporosis of the spine and other bone problems. Once you develop osteoporosis, you become more prone to compression fractures of the spine. Recent research even suggests that smokers are more likely to suffer from pain in the lower back compared with non-smokers.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight understandably puts more stress than necessary on your spine. For many health reasons, including the prevention of pain in the lower back, keeping yourself at the ideal weight for your height is important. Make sure your diet features only healthy food and get plenty of exercise so you can more easily manage your weight.
- If all else fails, try an over-the-counter pain reliever.
There are many over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory drugs you can take to reduce back pain. Aspirin, ibuprofen (such as Advil, Motrin, Nuprin), and naproxen sodium (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn) are all great at easing pain or discomfort in your lower back. Acetaminophen (Actamin, Panadol, and Tylenol) reportedly works great for managing pain in the lower back, too.
Before you take any over-the-counter medication, though, make sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist about potential side-effects, especially if you’re regularly taking other medications. For instance, people with a history of medical conditions in the kidney and liver may be recommended to avoid certain over-the-counter pain relievers.
The remedies listed above work best only for cases of mild levels of lower back pain. Sometimes, back pain is clearly serious and may cause additional discomfort such as weakness, numbness, or tingling in the legs. In such cases, it’s best to call a doctor as soon as you can.
Sometimes, back pain can be a symptom of a bigger, more serious medical condition, like nerve problems. You should also call your doctor if your lower back pain becomes severe and doesn’t go away after a few days. The same goes for back pain that persists even when you’re lying down or at rest or if you lose control over your bladder or bowels.