Lower back pain is almost always caused by tension or spasm in the muscles on either side of the spine, down towards the hips. Sometimes it can be traced back to more serious problems like rheumatoid arthritis, a, a fracture or stenosis, but 9 out of 10 times it’s muscle-related. That’s not to say that it can’t be debilitating and painful — over time, lower back pain can get worse and worse and turn into a cycle of problems that never get any better.
The good news, though, is that you have a host of options for treatment at home without having to resort to anything as drastic as surgery or even chiropractic:
- Be careful about going back into your daily activities. That’s not to say you should lie around in bed — bed rest can atrophy your muscles and affect your flexibility. But take it easy for a little while and don’t feel like you need to be heroic and “gut it out.” Be especially aware of things that could aggravate the problem, such as sitting in the wrong kind of chair for too long.
- Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine like acetaminophen, or aspirin.
- Think about your mattress. You’re more likely to be comfortable with a medium-firm mattress than one that’s either too firm or too soft.
- If you have to be physical with things like lifting, observe proper lifting techniques. Lift with your legs, keep the load close to your body, don’t twist and keep your back straight.
- Try to reduce the stress in your life. Things like depression or just an overly-heavy burden of stress can have direct physical repercussions.
- Consult with a physical therapist or a trainer about stretches or exercises you can work on to make your core more flexible and stronger. There are far too many to go into here, but once you’re comfortable enough again to consider taking it on, flexibility and strength exercises will make a huge difference.
- When the pain is acute, consider alternating heat and ice on the affected area.
- Think about your daily activities and routines, and ways that you can rearrange or change the ones that might be contributing to your low back pain. Sometimes it can be aggravated by things you might not normally think of!
- If the pain is work-related, talk to your human resources department or safety officer. They can help you out with ways to head off the problem, or at least steer you towards resources that will be of use. Things like back belts, for instance, don’t directly reduce back injury, but they do force you to keep your back straight while lifting.
- Once you’re able, consider a regular exercise program to help strengthen your whole core, lose weight and become more flexible. Also consider giving up cigarettes, if you smoke; among the many problems caused by tobacco, it also slows the healing of damaged soft tissue.