If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you know that even in mild cases it can have a profound impact on your lifestyle. While nearly 80 percent of us will experience some form of back pain as a normal part of life, in many cases, there are things you can do to manage the pain or relieve it completely. Some of Atlanta’s top spinal surgeons here at Polaris are here to offer advice on ways you can relieve back pain through certain exercises, therapies and lifestyle changes you can do at home. A word of caution before we begin: The tips we offer below are not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you experience sudden moderate or severe back pain—or back pain that won’t go away—always see a back specialist as soon as possible to learn the cause and get specific advice on how to manage the pain. The practices described below are primarily intended for treating everyday mild to moderate back pain, while severe or sudden pain may be an indicator of a more serious condition, one that you don’t want to amplify by attempting to treat the pain in a wrong way. For example, if you have injured your spine or have a herniated disc, the wrong stretch or exercise may make the problem worse. When in doubt, always check with a doctor first. With that in mind, here are a few tips offered by some of Atlanta’s finest spinal surgeons for relieving back pain.
Hot and/or cold therapy
There’s a bit of confusion over which is better for the back: heat or ice. The answer is, either one is effective, depending on the condition. Here’s the best way to remember:
- Ice is best for injury and inflammation, particularly to reduce swelling
- Heat is best for muscle aches and reducing stress.
The reason this is important is choosing the wrong thing can make the pain worse! If you apply heat to an injury, you can intensify the inflammation and amplify the pain. Conversely, if you apply ice to achy or stiff muscles, you can cause the muscles to tense up even more. If you’re experiencing occasional mild back pain, chances are you’re dealing with muscle aches or stress, in which case applying heat will help relax you. Chronic back pain sufferers may also find it helpful to alternate between heat and cold in short spurts.
Practice good posture
Bad posture is one of the biggest culprits for causing everyday back pain, and many of us practice bad posture without even thinking about it. Get in the habit of being more mindful of your posture. Don’t slouch. Stand or sit up straight; allow your head to rest squarely over your shoulders. Leaning your head forward puts undue pressure on your neck and shoulders. If your job requires you to spend long hours in front of a computer screen, try to avoid leaning toward it, or position your monitor at eye level so you don’t have to look downward at it. Take plenty of breaks to reposition your posture. If you get into good posture habits, you may find your back pain subsiding within a few weeks.
Strong, flexible back muscles are an excellent deterrent against back pain, and a regular exercise routine can get these muscles in shape. If you aren’t in the habit, start with low-impact exercises like walking. If you have foot or leg issues, swimming or exercising in the water can alleviate stress on your joints while giving you a good workout. Do some basic stretches before you start working out to avoid muscle spasms or injury. CAUTION: The wrong exercises may aggravate a more serious spinal condition, so check with your doctor first to know which exercises will help you, and which to avoid.
Stress is one of the most common factors in garden-variety back pain, in part because stress causes the muscles to tighten. There are many ways you can de-stress, ranging from a hot bath to aromatherapy to meditation, or even just taking a day to relax once in awhile. Get in the habit of reducing stress, and you’re likely to experience reduced back pain along with it.
Lose the extra weight
Just as bad posture puts undue pressure on your back, so does excess weight. You might be surprised at how losing just a few pounds might make your back feel better. A healthy, low-calorie diet can also provide nutrients your back muscles need in order to rejuvenate.
No, carrying a cigarette won’t hurt your back; the nicotine will. Nicotine reduces blood flow to your spinal discs, increasing the risk of injury. Likewise, smoking reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that feed your back muscles and spine. If you’ve got regular back pain, quitting smoking now can cause improvement over time.
If you experience a sudden injury or severe back pain, or if you find these practices aren’t helping, it may be time to see one of Atlanta’s top spinal surgeons. For an appointment, call Polaris Spine today at 404.256.2633.