Tons of studies lately have come out detailing the risks of aspirin and ibuprofen which are typically prescribed to relieve back pain. But if you want to cut out harmful pharmaceuticals, how do you get rid of that nasty back pain that keeps you up at night?
Before we get to how to fix it though, we need to identify what’s wrong. According to Livestrong, around 95% of patients with back pain do not have an identifiable cause for their pain that can be diagnosed. This is concerning because it means if our doctors can’t identify why we have pain, it’s then hard to identify how we can tackle it. This has led to the common practice of recommending patients try the same old remedies, no matter the type of back pain they are experiencing.
This tends to work in most cases, but in the few that it doesn’t, it can become a costly process. Especially when words like “spinal curvatures” and “vertebrae fracture” just make the whole thing that much more confusing.
Instead here are some exercises, remedies, and programs that will help depending on what kind of relief you are looking for and what kind of pain you are experiencing:
Recommended for: mild pain, need for immediate relief, and for those with an active lifestyle.
An obvious remedy at times, stretching is also one of the most forgotten ways to prevent and target back pain. With conflicting articles on the importance and need of stretching before exercising, we’re here to is mandatory.
The obvious reason is that because for most mild to medium back pains the cause is usually to do with a misalignment of your spine and stretching can help to get your vertebrae back into the right position. We see this as especially important for those with lower back pain, one of the most common diagnosis in North America. Lower back pain is a common symptom of our longest work days, the one’s where we sit at our desks for 9 hours and stare at a computer screen. This sedentary lifestyle can mean bad things for your back and can lead to pain over the long-term if we aren’t careful.
In Santa Monica the city introduced mandatory exercise programs where employees (especially in physical labour careers) have to stretch before they begin their day. This was in response to Japanese mandates, who have had this for much longer than anyone in North America. Participants of the program felt more limber and ready to take on their work, even after several hours at their desk that morning. Though the results of the program aren’t clear yet, these kind of programs can go a long way in eliminating lower back pain in workers across the country.
2. Water Therapy
Recommended for: medium – severe back pain, a longer relief program, and those who want to return to an active lifestyle.
One remedy on the rise is something called Water Therapy exercises which works to relieve lower back and neck pain through soothing exercises in the pool. It’s also said to strengthen muscles and can be particularly helpful for those whose back pain keeps them from being able to participate in land exercises and would like to build up the strength to get back to a healthy and fit state.
Water therapy is also used across many disabilities and has been proven to be a gentle way to regain your previous mobility. Some exercises include knee lifts, leg raises, and walking across the pool. These exercises can all be heightened in difficulty as well to provide an exercise program that is well-rounded and fit to match whatever level of pain you are experiencing.
How do you get involved with water therapy? Contact your local community centre or gym and see if they have a program for you. You’ll need an experienced trainer and a pool with a designated day for rehab and therapy.
Recommended for: mild pain, immediate relief, long-term program, and low-cost seekers.
Meditation is one of the most common remedies for almost any type of pain but it’s specifically proven to help with those with back pain. Because a lot of what is attributed to pain is mental, calming your mind and body through things like yoga breathing and meditation can go a long way in coping and coming to terms with your pain.
The idea behind meditation is that pain is attributed to our parietal lob in the brain and by training our brain and targeting our sensory phenomena we can essentially fool our brains into not feeling pain. To be clear, meditation does not eliminate pain, but it can help you manage and live with it. It’s even proven to work quite well with patients who were new to meditation and not necessarily experts in the art. Overall all the studies that Wake Forest University held on the subject, the subjects who performed mediation showed more than 40 percent reduction in pain compared to non-meditators.
Meditation is also a considerably less expensive option to its many alternatives, which is fitting as it’s said that it costs anywhere from $560 to $635 billion annually to treat back pain in America. That’s why finding something like meditation, which requires no support from a trainer or product, is ideal as a relief program for the cost adverse.
4. Posture Training
Recommended for: mild pain and prevention and long-term programs.
Bad posture is one of the most frequent causes of back pain and should explain why your mother nagged you for years to keep your shoulders up and head straight. The reason for this is because bad posture is essentially leaving your spine out of shape for long periods of time, whether sitting or standing. Having good posture leads to your entire spinal cord and lower back being balanced and aligned, and if practiced over a long period of time, can prevent most cases of back pain and spine misalignment.
Although you may be thinking back to the old princess movies with girls balancing books on their heads, there are some much simpler ways to improve your posture through a couple key exercises. One that might surprise you, but is incredibly effective, is imagery and visualization. A Health Report from Harvard Medical School recommends that you focus on thinking about a straight line when you feel you posture is misaligned. “Imagine that a strong cord attached to your breastbone is pulling your chest and rib cage upward,” says the Health Report.
They also recommend a couple different stretches that promote posture, such as squeezing your shoulder blades together, stretching you upper body flat on a wall, and crossing your arm across your chest to touch your elbow. All of these, and a simple attention to better posture, can all lead to back pain prevention and relief over the long term.
5. Chair Supports
Recommended for: mild – medium pain, long term relief, and those that work a desk job.
We all know that one person at the office with the expensive chair with the back supports, but does it really help their backs? According to Paul Cooke, M.D chairs that don’t actively work to support your spine make your muscles work that much harder and makes the inhabitant of the chair feel exhausted and fatigued by the end of the day. Because we end up spending anywhere from 40 to 60 hours a week in our office chairs and then return home to sit for hours on our couch, there isn’t much relief for our muscles or lower back.
There’s two ways to prevent and alleviate back pain through our seat types: sitting right and having the right chair. For the office, some things to look for when shopping are recline, adjustable seatbacks, and lower back support. Recline is great for when you don’t need to sit upright (i.e. reading a document or talking on the phone) because it gives some much needed relief and movement to your day. An adjustable seat means you can tailor the chair to your height and upper back, meaning you can properly support all parts of your back even if your over six feet tall. Most top-of-the-line chairs you can find will have some sort of lumbar back support, but make sure to test out the chair yourself to make sure it supports your lower back in the right and most comfortable way.
The key, however, is not just a focus on your office furniture. Make sure you take a look at the couches and chairs you have at home and make sure you aren’t spending too much of your day seated in chairs that aren’t supporting your spine in the right ways.
6. The Right Shoes
Recommended for: mild pain and prevention and long term relief.
According to David S. Wolf, DPM, you can think of your body as a kind of building with the feet being the foundation. If your foundation isn’t right and isn’t being supported in the right way, the whole building sitting atop it will be off kilter and even has the chance of falling apart completely. So when we think about back pain, we have to realize that if we aren’t supporting our feet in the right way that it can mean disastrous things for our spine health.
As much as we don’t want to hear it, some of our favourite shoes can be the cause of that back pain we’re experiencing. Heels, flip flops, and Crocs are some of the biggest culprits which don’t provide the right kind of support and create extra stress and strain on our lower backs. Inserts and orthotics are the easiest way to take your shoes and make them more suited to back health, but investing in custom footwear is always a good idea. Even getting used to wearing running shoes on a daily basis, even if it might mean breaking away from your unique style, can mean great things for your back.
The first step is to visit your podiatrist and ask what the best option for you is today and to start work in improving your footwear or customizing a new pair specific to you.
7. Control Your Weight
Recommended for: mild – severe pain, long term program and immediate relief.
One of the most common causes of chronic back pain, especially in obesity-prone North America, is excessive weight gain. This is due to again extra weight causing misalignment in the spine, especially for those carrying a lot of weight in their mid-sections. Specifically for those in the weight range that can be classified as overweight or obese have been scientifically proven to have a higher risk of back pain. Beyond that, studies show that even losing just a few pounds can make a world of difference on your spinal alignment.
Healthy weight loss is key and going to your doctor to find the right work out plan for you is a wise decision. But if you’re looking for a place to start, ease yourself into cardio exercises or classes that won’t put too much strain on your back. Things like swimming or dancing can be low-intensity but high-reward as they won’t irritate your back but will help you shed a few pounds. If you plan on exercising with weights, make sure to have a trainer teach you how to properly lift so you don’t put any access strain on your lower back.
In all, visit your doctor first to try and identify what type of back pain you have. But if you’re like the majority of patients, the above are just a few exercises that will keep you feeling great and match whatever lifestyle you live.