If you suffer from lower back pain, you are not alone. Back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the United States – only headache is more common. Though it’s estimated that 3.1 million Americans experience lower back pain at any given time, the good news is that there are simple self-help strategies you can use to relieve the aches and pain, and keep them from returning in the future.
1. Lighten Your Load
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 13,766 injuries related to backpacks were treated at doctors’ offices, clinics and emergency rooms in 2011. To avoid back strain, bend both knees when lifting a heavy backpack, wear both straps and make sure it doesn’t weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of your body weight.
2. Lift with Your Legs
When possible, avoid heavy lifting at all costs. If you must, make sure you bend over from the waist and lift with your legs. Bend your knees and squat, pulling in your stomach muscles and holding the object close to your body as you stand up. Push objects (rather than pulling them) because it is easier on the back muscles.
3. Wear the Right Shoes
The worst choices for lower pain are heels and flat shoes, because they do not provide enough arch support. Sneakers are often the best choice for lower back pain relief, but should be tried on before purchasing. If your feet roll inward, choose stability and motion control shoes. If your feet roll outward, choose a shoe with a softer sole and tougher outsole.
4. Buy a Supportive Mattress
Lack of support from a mattress contributes to lower back pain by reinforcing poor sleep posture. Sleeping on a firm mattress can provide comfort and back support that helps reduce back pain. When resting, prop your head up with a comfortable pillow and lie on your side to reduce any curve in your spine.
5. Stretch Often
Relieve your back pain by gently stretching your back muscles, holding each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeating 5 to 10 times. Move into each stretch slowly and avoid bouncing, which can cause muscle tear. Remember to never force the body into a difficult position when stretching, especially if it causes pain.
6. Exercise Daily
Physical activity is often times the best medicine for back pain relief. Try flexibility-focused stretches and low-impact aerobic exercises to condition back muscles and sooth pain, including yoga, walking and stationary biking. The Methodist Wellness Center offers a variety of wellness programs to get you moving!
7. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Carrying extra weight, especially in the midsection, can cause strain on your lower back. Staying within 10 pounds of your ideal weight can provide a noticeable decrease in the intensity and frequency of lower back pain you may experience.
8. Quit Smoking – Or Don’t Start
If you smoke, talk to your doctor about your smoking cessation resources and support options to quit. Research shows that smoking causes reduced blood flow to the lower spine, which can lead to the degeneration of the spinal disks.
9. Don’t Slouch When Sitting
When sitting, choose a comfortable seat with proper lumbar support, and walk around and/or stretch every hour. If you must sit for a long period of time, place a pillow behind the small of your back and change seating positions often. You may experience extra lower back pain relief by resting your feet on a low stool when sitting.
10. Stand Tall
Proper body mechanics involves maintaining good posture when standing. To make sure your spine is aligned, pull in your stomach, keep your head level and plant both feet facing outward. If possible, rest one foot on stool, switching feet every 10 minutes, if you are standing for an extended amount of time.
11. Know When to See a Doctor
Severe back pain that worsens with time can be a warning sign of a more serious condition. Call your doctor about your lower back pain if you have any red flag symptoms, such as being under age 20 or over age 55, having lost control of your bladder or bowels, having had cancer in the past or having weakness or numbness in other parts of the body.
Managing back pain involves being a proactive participant in making smart decisions regarding your medical care, including knowing when to get help. If you think your back pain is more than you can continue to manage on your own, speak with an experienced neurologist at UnityPoint Health – Methodist | Proctor today.