Lower back pain is a common problem experienced by many people today. Back pain from lifting, conditions such as sciatica, herniated disc and spinal stenosis and infections are among the causes. Acute back pain can often be treated naturally with exercise and stretching. Those who experience chronic pain should seek the advice of a doctor.
Reduce Back Pain with Good Posture
Maintaining good posture is important for preserving the health of the spine. Slouching may cause lower back pain, but sitting too straight for lengthy periods of time can place pressure on other parts of the back. Over a prolonged period of time, poor alignment of the spine may lead to pinched nerves in the lower back, constriction of blood vessels and muscle pain.
Use Adequate Support When Sitting
Providing proper lower back support is important for those who spend long hours sitting. Using an ergonomically designed chair can prevent some forms of back pain. They will provide sufficient lumbar support and allow height adjustment for the task. When sitting, hunching the shoulders forward and sliding forward on the chair should be avoided. Even with an ergonomically designed chair, it is recommended that sitting position be changed frequently and walking and stretching be performed intermittently.
Below are some techniques that will support the lower back and help avoid pain.
- When seated adjacent to a desk, the chair should be at a height that allows the arms to be bent at the elbows at an angle of 75 to 90 degrees
- Keep the shoulders straight
- The seated position should place the knees even with or somewhat higher than the hips
- Both feet should be placed on the floor or a foot rest
Correct Spinal Alignment for Standing and Walking
Maintaining proper body alignment during prolonged standing or walking can also help prevent muscle aches and back injury. A few tips for reducing back problems while walking and standing are as follows:
- Most of the body’s weight should be supported by the balls of the feet rather than the heels
- The feet should be placed approximately shoulder width apart
- Don’t lock the knees
- Allow arms to relax naturally at the sides
- Keep the head level with the top of the spine
- Keep the back straight and don’t allow shoulders to slouch
- When standing for an extended period of time, periodically shift weight to the opposite foot or rock on the feet
- Shoes should be low heeled and comfortable
- When walking, keep the head up and avoid looking down
- Maintain proper alignment of the shoulders with the rest of the body
Use Proper Lifting Techniques
Lifting heavy objects or twisting the body at an awkward angle while lifting is a frequent cause of lower back pain. Always ask for assistance when lifting objects that are too heavy to manage alone. Proper lifting techniques are essential to avoid injury to the back.
- When picking up an object, bend the knees, not at the waist
- Use a support belt when lifting heavy objects
- Keep objects close to the body
- Refrain from using the back muscles when lifting. Use the abdominal muscles instead.
- Do not twist the body when lifting
Spinal Support While Sleeping
Adequate support for the spine is essential to avoid back problems. A firm mattress will provide needed support for the back while sleeping. Sleeping on the side will reduce curvature in the spine. A pillow placed between the knees will also keep the spine properly aligned.
Exercises for Lower Back Problems
There are numerous exercises that can provide relief from lower back pain as well as prevent injury. Those designed to relieve pain often employ stretching and relaxation techniques. Exercises intended to strengthen muscles often focus on the abdominals, legs and back muscles. It is critical to seek the advice of a physician before beginning any type of exercise program. There may be some mild discomfort when performing some exercises. If the pain becomes more severe, discontinue the exercises and see a health care provider.
Stretching exercises are an extremely effective means of pain management for lower back problems. These activities strengthen muscles and enhance mobility to speed recovery. Stretches should be held 20 to 30 seconds without straining. A few exercises helpful in eliminating lower back pain include:
- Back Flexion: Lie on the back and bring both knees to the chest and the head forward
- Knee Stretch: Lie on the back with knees bent. Clasp hands behind one knee and bring it to the chest, then alternate
Aquatic therapy allows the muscles to be conditioned while minimizing stress on the back. The water offsets gravity that compresses the spine. The “weightlessness” experienced in water allows individuals more flexibility and mobility. Stretching and strengthening exercises for the lower back can be performed with much greater ease and without pain. It is especially beneficial for those who experience too much pain to perform land exercises.
Yoga offers a number of therapeutic exercises for the lower back. These exercises not only incorporate deep breathing to provide much needed oxygen to help repair injury, but focus on relaxation techniques that can minimize stress. The following poses and stretches are especially useful in minimizing lower back pain:
- Supine hamstring stretch
- Double knee twist
- Sphinx pose
- Pigeon pose
- Thread the Needle
- Legs Up the Wall
Accupressure has been frequently used for treatment of lower back pain as well. Accupressure assumes that chronic pain is a response to tension in the musculature. Pain is thought to originate at trigger points. Although, the pain originates from these points, it may actually be felt at another location. In other words, pain may be felt on the left side of the arm, but the originating source may be on the right side. Massage is used to relax these points and thus alleviate pain. The points are often difficult to locate but will be painful or tender when pressed. Points that are a source of pain in the spinal muscles are located along the spine.
Pain Management Solutions
There are a number of over the counter back pain relief products available. Products containing ibuprofen or naproxen can mitigate inflammation and swelling to provide fast relief of symptoms associated with lower back problems. Other home remedies include the application of heat to the affected area upon initial injury to reduce swelling and inflammation, followed by heat to encourage healing.
A physician can also offer suggestion for noninvasive techniques to eliminate severe lower back pain and avoid surgery. Epidural steroid injections are used to treat many conditions responsible for lower back pain. A physical therapist can often assist with McKenzie exercises and dynamic lumbar stabilization exercises to treat some conditions without undergoing surgery.