Before I begin, let me say again, I am not now nor have I ever been a medical professional of any kind. I am just an everyday Joe with a history of lower back pain. I have had a multitude of soft tissue injuries going all the way back to high school sports. I had a bout with sciatica several years ago. I presently suffer from spinal stenosis due to osteoarthritis. Needless to say, over the years, I have researched lower back pain in depth and in detail. I have had many discussions with doctors, therapists and various other medical professionals. What I write about is everything I have been able to learn. I try to put it into layman terms so it is easier to understand.
Nearly 85% of all people will experience lower back pain at some point in their life and the older you get the more likely you are to experience lower back pain. Back injuries can occur when you’re doing just about anything from waking across a parking lot to sitting at your computer. No one is immune to the dreaded lower back pain. For this installment of “Oh My Aching Back”, We are going to begin discussing the best home treatment for lower back pain.
Most of the lower back issues are soft tissue injuries. Normally these don’t put a major crimp in your lifestyle, but they are painful but don’t require a doctor or emergency room to treat. With the high cost of medical treatments and higher deductibles on health insurance. There are things you can do at home to treat these minor aches and pains. So, without further a due, lets get started.
Ice or Heat
I have had many discussions with people from all walks of life about what is best for lower back pain. Some people say it is best to use ice for an injury. Others swear that heat is the best thing to ease the pain. Which one is right? As it turns out, both may be right depending on the circumstances.
If you experience inflammation and/or swelling of the injured area. The best thing to use is ice for the first 24 to 48 hours after the initial injury. Ice helps to reduce swelling and inflammation. Never put Ice or ice packs directly on the skin. Protect the skin by wrapping the ice or ice pack in a towel. Only leave the ice on for 20 minutes, then give the skin a rest for at least 20 minutes. Heat used during this period only adds to the inflammation.
Heat can be used if there is no inflammation or after the first 24 to 48 hours of ice. Heat often feels good because the heat helps to hide the pain and helps to relax the muscles. Heat has the added benefit of improving blood flow bringing nutrients and oxygen to the injured area promoting healing. As with ice, never put the heat directly on the injury, place a towel or blanket between the heat source and the skin to protect it. Heat must also be removed after 20 minutes to give the skin a rest. Then after 20 minutes, it can be replied.
When returning to activity, it is helpful to alternate between heat and ice. Applying heat before the activity will help to relax and loosen the muscles. After the activity, ice will help prevent swelling and inflammation.
To rest or not to rest, that is the question.
Years ago, it was common for doctors to recommend plenty of rest to aid in recovery of lower back pain. They believed any activity could lead to more damage or at the very least, reinjury. Modern medicine believes just the opposite. Too much rest actually makes healing more difficult and lengthy. What is recommended now is a shorter rest period, usually not more than a day or two, followed by periods of moderate activity. You will have to be the judge of just how moderate the activity should be. Use common sense. Like the old joke when the patient says, “Doc, it hurts when I do that.” and the doctor says, “Then don’t do that.” If it hurts, don’t do it.
Once you start feeling better, you should start doing some low impact aerobic exercises like walking, bicycling or even swimming. Again just don’t over do it. Work your way back to health a little at a time. Your back will love you for it.
Nonprescription pain relievers
The first line of defense for treating lower back pain at home is usually aspirin or the NSAID pain relievers,(nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug). such as ibuprofen such as Motrin, or naproxen sodium such as Aleve. Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol is also popular.
Aspirin and NSAID pain relievers as well as naproxen sodium work by relieving inflammation on swollen muscles and nerves. Acetaminophen works by interfering with the pain signals on their way to the brain.
My personal preference is acetaminophen arthritis. I already take a prescription strength NASID pain reliever, Voltaren, for my osteoarthritis. My doctor recommended that I stick with acetaminophen because too much of the same thing can be harmful. I did try naproxen sodium for a short time. It did work pretty well but my blood pressure went up about 20 points. When I stopped taking it, my blood pressure returned to normal.
Larger doses of these medications, while they do help with the pain, do have some adverse side effects. Acetaminophen, when taken in larger doses over a long period of time may damage the liver. NSAID pain relievers can cause gastrointestinal problem, ulcers or possibly even kidney damage.
Do you wake up with a back ache?
How many times have you gotten up in the morning with lower back pain? There may be more than one reason for that. Look at the tag on your mattress. If your mattress is more than 8 to 10 years old, there is a good possibility it’s worn out. Yes believe it or not a mattress will wear out. The springs get weak and the padding becomes compressed. This results in lack of proper support for the spine. The spine needs to stay in a neutral position during sleep to prevent back aches and possible injury. When you replace your old mattress, a firmer one is recommended over a softer one. I sleep on a memory foam mattress with a replaceable foam pad on top. It seems to support my entire body just fine.
How you sleep is just as important as what you sleep on. If you sleep on your back, you can place a pillow under your knees to relieve the pressure on your hips and lower spine. If you’re a side sleeper, place a small pillow under your head and neck for support. Place another pillow in between your legs and pull your knees up a little. The pillows will keep your spine in a neutral position and keep your legs together to help alleviate twisting of the spine.
Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended, It forces you to twist your head to the side and keeps the spine from getting in the neutral position. ###marker1######marker1###If you must sleep on your stomach, it is recommended that you place a pillow under your stomach to help support the spine.
Watch your wallet
Men, this one’s for you, and I speak from experience. I used to carry my wallet in my left hip pocket. A vast majority carry their wallet in one hip pocket or the other. Believe it or not, this can adversely affect spine health. I used to keep everything in my wallet, cash, credit cards, business cards, receipts, notes I had taken, insurance cards, fishing license and anything else that was small enough to fit. One day it caught up with me. I rolled over on my left hip and felt this sharp stabbing pain go down the back of my leg. I got up and walked around until it felt better. I didn’t think anything about it until the next day. For some strange reason I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes without pain in the back of my left leg. It continued to get worse over the next few days. I had no idea what it was.
My boss made me see a doctor. An MRI showed that I had a pinched sciatic nerve. It took several weeks of therapy and several hours on the bicycle before I was able to stand without pain. Lesson learned. Now I carry my wallet in my left front pocket just to keep from sitting on it.
For you gentlemen who still insist on carrying your wallet in your hip pocket, take all the junk out of it. All you need in your wallet is the bare necessities. We have smart phones now. Keep the rest of the junk stored on your smart phone. The flatter the wallet, the better.
I’m going to end this blog here. There is far too much information to include in one post. The next post will pick up where this on left off.
In the mean time, I would like to leave you with something to think about. How much time do you spend sitting in front of a screen? It doesn’t matter whether it’s a TV screen, computer or tablet screen, smart phone or a video game, Keep track of how much time each day you’re sitting in front of a screen. In part two we’ll look at how it can affect your back.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. If there is something in particular you would like me to cover, let me know and I will gladly add a post about it.