By:Dr. Alison Lee, DO
My Back Hurts! What Can I Do?
Most of us will seek medical care for back pain at some point. Back pain, especially in the lower back, is common. It may be dull and nagging or a sharp pain you can point to. You may remember when you hurt your back, or it may start hurting for no reason you can recall. Regardless of how it starts, it is painful and may take a toll on your quality of life.
The good news is that most back pain is not due to any major problem with your body. Usually it gets better on its own with time, and no treatment is needed. And besides, back pain differs from person to person, making it difficult to treat., But, here is what we know about back pain, and some practical advice for feeling better:
Activity helps back pain.
MOVING improves most back pain. We sit much more than we should, which puts stress on many parts of the body. Gaining weight makes it even worse. Movement improves blood flow in general, which helps the body heal. So, at the very least, if you get up from your seated position several times a day you may notice a difference. You will probably notice an even greater difference if you get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days each week.
Taking this a few steps further, you can strengthen your core muscles to take the stress off your lower back. Strengthen these muscles with abdominal and lower back exercises [link: ]. Most of what we do in our daily routines does not help strengthen these core muscles, so we have to make a real effort to do so. There is no one best core-strengthening program. Pilates, yoga, physical therapy or home exercise programs—whatever works for you and your lifestyle is a good option. It is important to keep at it!
More flexibility may help with your back pain, too. The backs of our legs, or the hamstrings, and the muscles in our buttocks, the gluteals, can become very tight and make back pain worse. Stretching these muscles up to three times a day can help [link:].
The mind and body constantly are communicating.
We know that stress, anxiety, and depression can affect pain, making the pain worse or making it harder to tolerate pain. Finding ways to relax is important for your overall health. Regular exercise helps. But regardless of what we do, creating stress-free space in our daily routine can have positive impact on our wellbeing and alleviate pain. John Sarno, M.D., writes on this topic and is worth reading [link: ]. His approach may not fit everyone’s needs, but he makes excellent points about how the mind and body work together in back pain. Openly acknowledging and dealing with this part of back pain is very important in helping you recover and cope with it.
Regular sleep helps just about everything. Poor sleep eventually takes a toll on our health, and affects our perception of pain. Being rested makes us feel better in general, and improves symptoms of back pain. Getting regular activity and reducing stress will also naturally help sleep.
Know when it’s time to see a doctor.
In some instances, for example if your back pain comes with weight loss, fevers, incontinence (loss of control of your bladder or bowels), weakness, or sensory changes (severe numbness or tingling), it’s time to call your doctor.
For most of us, being active, mindful, and rested will help us find relief from, and prevent future episodes of, back pain.