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Low Back Pain: What To Do About It

Lower Back Pain

“Oh, my aching back!”

If you’ve uttered those words lately, you’re not alone. Low back pain is chronic in our society. Just check out some statistics . . .

  • It is the fifth most common reason for all physician visits in the United States. 
  • It is the most frequent cause of activity limitation in people younger than 45 years old.
  • Approximately one quarter of U.S. adults reported having low back pain lasting at least one whole day in the past three months
  • 6 percent reported at least one episode of severe acute low back pain within a one-year period
  • Approximately 2 percent of the U.S. work force is compensated for back injuries each year.
  • Americans spend at least $50 billion per year on back pain—and that’s just for the more easily identified costs. 

A lot of people with chronic bac pain are convinced that surgery is their only option for relief. In this article we will discover that there are real workable options that you can start doing today that will help to bring the relief that you deserve.

Sciatic Nerve Pain

Your sciatic nerve is not one but several nerve cords that go through your tailbone, travel through your glutes and then down the back of your legs. On their journey they pass through such muscles as the piriformis and hamstrings. When these muscles begin to tense, they may press on the sciatic nerve, which causes pain.

Sciatic pain is at the root of much lower back pain. But that pain can run anywhere from your back to your hips and legs.

The iliopsoas muscle travels on the front of your body from the vertebrae to the front of the hip joint. This muscle can also get too tight. When it does it is more difficult to stretch than the hamstrings due to its location deep in the pelvic area.

Sciatic nerve pain can also be caused by a form of arthritis called stenosis. This causes a narrowing of the spinal canal which puts pressure on the spinal cord.

Back pain may also be caused by strains, sprains and spasms. It is often the result of lifting something that is too heavy or simply twisting the wrong way. This can cause inflammation and swelling and this can put pressure on the spinal nerves.

A traumatic injury, such as a car accident, may alter the spine, placing pressure on the nerves. Many people also experience what is known as ‘haunting pain’, where they continue to get pain long after they have been released from treatment by their doctor. This is most commonly due to your body having trained itself to favor a certain side of the body until the other side heals. Over time, these overused muscles are unable to relax.

Inflammation of the sacroiliac joint may also lead to problems. When this joint becomes inflamed, it can irritate the sacroiliac nerve which runs directly in front of it, causing pain.

Another cause of sciatic nerve pain is osteoporosis. A loss of bone density due to aging makes our bones brittle. This makes it increasingly difficult to perform our normal daily tasks. For many people, osteoporosis first evidences itself in the lower back.

With so many causes of back pain, it is important to pinpoint the exact problem with a visit to your doctor before starting an exercise or strength program designed to bring relief.

Treatment Options

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy will involve learning how to relax your muscles in order to relive pain. It will usually include exercises to improve your posture, adjust your gait and strengthen the muscles that support the neck and back. While it used to be believed that the best thing you could do for back pain was to lie around and wait for the pain to go away, that is no longer the belief. Doctors universally agree that the best thing you can do is to get off the couch and start moving.

That being said, it is still important to allow the time for your back muscles to relax in addition to exercise.

Medication

Medicine

You can get over the counter prescription drugs that are designed to relax your muscles and reduce inflammation. They offer only temporary results and do not address the root of the problem. You might need them at the start to help manage your pain, but more than drugs are needed for long-term relive of back pain.

One natural supplement that you should take daily is Omega-3 fatty acids. This will help to reduce and even prevent inflammation.

Herbal Remedies

Herbal Remedies

A number of herbal remedies have been shown to be effective at reducing back pain and swelling. These include . . .

  • Willow Bark
  • Devil’s Claw
  • Cayenne Pepper

Epidural Steroid Injections

Epidural Steroid Injections

An epidural steroid injunction can bring quick relief from chronic pain. They will reduce inflammation around the affected nerves. This, again, is a short-term fix, however. They also carry some concerning side effects.

Chiropractic Adjustment

Chiropractic Adjustment

A chiropractor will undertake spinal manipulation in order to bring relief. He or she will move a joint beyond its normal range of motion. This will increase blood flow and free up tension in the back.

Massage

Massage

Massage therapy relaxes the muscles and increases blood flow to the area. Relaxed noses don’t put as much pressure on the nerves in order to reduce pain. Make sure that the person who you unleash to your back is a certified massage therapist.  Once again, massage therapy does not address the underlying issue to causes lower back pain.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been shown in numerous studies to be as effective at relieving back pain as over the counter medications. It involves the insertion of tiny needles into specific points on your body based on your diagnosis. After several relaxing minutes, the acupuncturist will then adjust the needles by twisting them.

Ice

Ice Pack

People often wonder whether it is best to treat their back pain with ice or with heat. Let’s investigate.

When the piriformis muscle begins to spasm, the body sends more white blood cells and fewer red blood cells to the glutes. This allows the immune system to deal with the issue. However, the lack of red blood cells leads to a loss of oxygen getting to the affected area. That is not a good thing.

Heat will increase the blood flow to the affected area. This will bring in more oxygen. The heat will also help to relax the muscle.

However, do not apply heat if the injury involves sprains or strains. That is because you first need to reduce the swelling. The best way to do this is with ice treatment. The cold will constrict the walls of the blood vessels to reduce the swelling. It also numbs nerve endings, reducing the pain.

If you have swelling, apply ice immediately and continue for 24-48 hours. Then, when the swelling is reduced, begin exercising the muscles of the back.

3 Stretches for Back, Neck and Sciatic Pain

Stretching Exercises

#1 Through the Hole 

  • Lie on your back on the floor with knees bent and your feet flat, about hip distance apart.  Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, and bring your left leg up off the floor, straightening it and pointing the toe if you can.
  • Now reach through the hole between your legs with your right arm and reach around the back of your left leg with your left arm until your hands can clasp and gently pull your legs closer to your body.  Check to make sure that your head is still on the floor and your neck is not arched.
  • Tuck your chin in toward your chest a little to straighten out your neck, or place a small pillow under your head as in the photo below.  Breathe deeply for one to two minutes while gently stretching
  • Now lower your left leg and repeat with the opposite leg.

#2: Downward Facing Dog Yoga Pose 

  • Begin by standing tall with your feet hip distance apart. As you inhale, lengthen your spine all the way up through your neck.  Stretch your arms up above your head and then fold over from your hips, reaching forward. Keep your back flat; don’t hunch it!
  • It helps if you stick your butt out a little.  When you’ve folded forward as far as you can with a flat back, let your head and arms relax.  Rest in this forward bend for one deep breath to encourage your spine to relax completely. 
  • Now bend your knees so that you can bring your palms to the floor on either side of your feet.  Walk your hands out on your mat until you look like an inverted V, raising your hips toward the ceiling while stretching heels toward the floor at the same time.  Breathe deeply for one to two minutes, relaxing further with each breath. 
  • Bend your knees slightly and reverse the exercise, coming back to a standing position by slowly rolling up one vertebra at a time.

#3: Sleeping Pigeon 

  • Begin in the Downward Facing Dog pose with your weight on all four limbs, stretching your buttocks up toward the ceiling while at the same time stretching your heels toward the floor.
  • Bring your right knee forward and place it between your hands on the floor with the lower leg angled slightly toward your left wrist. Lower your body down on top of the legs as far as possible (you can hold yourself up with your hands or arms) and stretch the left leg out straight behind you.  Relax and breathe deeply for two minutes. 
  • To come out of the position, place your palms under your shoulders, inhale, and press into your palms as you lift your body back to Downward Facing Dog Pose or back to table position.  Repeat with the opposite leg.

Exercises To Strengthen Your Back Support Muscles

Back Muscle

When you strengthen the muscles surrounding your back and neck, the more support you will provide every time you move, sit or stand.

#1: The Lunge

The Lunge is excellent for stretching the iliopsoas muscle.

  • Begin by standing tall. Step back with your left leg—as far back as you can— and drop down onto your left knee. To help keep your balance, place your hands on the floor on either side of your feet. Also, make sure that your right knee is over your right foot.
  • Stretch that left leg back a little bit more. You can keep your hands on the floor if you are comfortable there, or bring them up onto your right thigh.
  • Inhale as you stretch your pelvic area downward toward the floor. You should feel this stretch in your left groin and hip.  Breathe deeply in this position, stretching farther—as far as you can without causing pain.  Continue stretching for about a minute. Then repeat the exercise on the other side.

#2: The Crunch 

  • Begin lying on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat about hip distance apart.  Inhale deeply and then exhale as you squeeze your abdominal muscles to raise your upper body slightly off the floor.
  • Hold this position for two seconds.  Lower yourself back down to the floor slowly. Repeat. 
  • Start with anywhere from two to four crunches. Then, as you become stronger, you can build up to six reps. Remember to go slowly and make your abs do all of the work. Keep checking that you have no tension in your neck during this exercise.

#3: Pilates Swimming 

  • Begin by lying on the floor, face down, with your arms extended above your head about shoulder width apart. Your legs should be extended about hip distance apart.
  • Keep your chin on the mat as you look forward.  Inhale as you lift and stretch your right arm and your left leg at the same time.  Exhale and lower them. 
  • Then inhale and lift your left arm and right leg. Exhale and lower them.  Repeat five or six times.

#4: Shoulder Stand 

  • Start out by placing a folded blanket next to a solid wall.  Lie in a fetal position on your right side, with your buttocks on the blanket and touching the wall.
  • Stretch your legs out as you roll on to your back, gently placing your legs up against the wall. Be sure to keep your back flat on the floor with the folded blanket under your buttocks. Your butt should be pressing right up to the wall. Keep your arms alongside your body with the palms facing upward. Remain here, breathing deeply for about three minutes. 
  • As you start to feel more comfortable in this modified yoga shoulder stand, you can add more blankets to your pile so that your butt is lifted higher and you feel more weight on your shoulders.

6 Lifestyles Changes to Defeat Back Pain

Lifestyle Change
  • Ditch high heels – your max heel height should be one inch.
  • Sit tall in your chair – do not slouch; rest your feet on a small box; walk around frequently throughout the day.
  • Wear a lifting belt – do this in the gym for compound moves but also at work if you are regularly lifting heavy things.
  • Rest and relax your back muscles
  • Walk like John Wayne – initiate each step from the hip rather than the knee. Make sure, too, that your shoulders are square and your head high.
  • Lose weight – dropping even a few pounds can take a lot of stress off your back; follow sound nutrition and exercise guidelines to drop the pounds.

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