Simple Steps to Eliminate Back Pain

Low back - male 48A few days ago a coworker came to me complaining of low back pain.  You know the drill: Stabbing pain with forward bending, spasms grabbing when you move too fast, a sensation that your legs will give out on you when walking down stairs and the agonizing stiffness that comes when you try to stand up after sitting.  Pain in the back no fun and it can literally change your life…for the worse!

As I explained simple steps to help his back pains, I realized how common it is for most adults to have low back pain with little knowledge how to get back pain relief.  I saw it as a great example to share with my readers.   Here are my helpful tips to decrease low back pain and regain the active lifestyle we all enjoy.

Common Symptoms of a Low Back Injury

Spasm – Secondary to pain and the body’s need to protect itself, your brain will fire-up muscles around the spine to involuntarily contract to stabilize and protect the spine.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to Ctrl/Alt/Delete the spasms off!

Pain – There are many types of back pain based on the type of tissue (disk, nerve, bone, muscle, ligament or fascia) causing the pain.  The pain can range from stabbing, aching, shooting, pain down the leg, leg numbness, “catching” in the back and/or general tightness throughout the low back and hips.

Weakness – Low back, hips, Abs and/or leg.

Uncertainty – The concerning sense that you don’t have control of your back and it could “just give out” on you at any time is stressful.

Tightness – The inability to stand erect with proper posture to function normally in life, especially after sitting for a period of time.

Tips for Back Pain Relief

I want to share with you the tips I gave my friend that will both decrease your symptoms and improve your function when suffering from pain in the back.

Sleep Hard – Sleep on a very hard surface, even if it’s the floor. Unless bouncing on the bed with a glass of red wine balancing on the other side of your bed is part of your nightly foreplay routine, I suggest you get off the memory foam bed for a couple of weeks.  Having your entire back stabilized on a hard surface is just what you need.  Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees or sleeping on your back with pillows under your knees are my suggestions for smart sleep positions with low back pain.

Stretch the Hammies – This is a key step to eliminating low back pain. Flexible hamstrings allow your pelvis to move into positions it WANTS to be in to get away from the pain.  With tight hamstrings, the pelvis is anchored down and most of the movement associated with the core tends to come from the low back, which becomes more painful.

Strengthen the Abs – Your abdominal muscles or “Abs” are the workhorses of the back and pelvis. Strong Abs absorb a large chunk of the force applied to the low back while they support the front half of the spine.  To make the Abs strong when the back is sore, focus on variations of crunches to do this. With crunches, I like to keep 3 body parts in direct contact with the floor to both minimize the risk of injury and to isolate the Abs: Feet, Butt & Low Back.

Great Body Mechanics – Like I told my friend, most people don’t hurt their back lifting a car off an elderly lady.  They “throw their back out” tying their shoe or picking up the newspaper.  To keep it simple, good body mechanics is defined as maintaining a strong “C Curve” in the low back with the open side of the “C” facing backwards.  If is faces the front when the spine is looked at from the side view, that is “slouching” with poor posture.  If you maintain this Good Curve with everything you do from sitting to picking up your children to brushing your teeth, your back will thank you.

Ice/Heat? – I’ll make it easy to remember: For the first week after suffering a back injury, only apply ICE to your back.  After the first week, if you have any spasms, pain, and/or pain down the leg, stay with ICE.  If your only complaint is “tightness” and you want to loosen up the back, HEAT is your best option.  If every in doubt, go with ICE.  Remember, ICE is not comfortable and it will make your back tight for a short period of time after a treatment.  That’s okay when your objective is to decrease inflammation and pain.

Medications – As you know from reading my blog posts, I’m not a big fan of popping pills.  I’m a strong believer that my body doesn’t want to be in pain and, if I keep it strong, allow it to move properly, fuel it with healthy nutrition and listen to what it’s telling me, it will do a damn good job managing much of the pain.  If you feel you need pain medicine or anti-inflammatory medicine, I suggest you talk to your doctor about the options.

Ending Back Pains…..

Low back pain can be one of the most debilitating injuries for both athletes and couch potatoes.  The tips in this article will prove to be helpful for both managing a back injury and for preventing back pain when your back is feeling great.  Low back pain finds 80% of us in our lifetime so applying this advice may help you hang out with the fun 20% with the happy backs.

Author: Mike Ryan

After 26 seasons as a full-time certified athletic trainer and registered physical therapist in the National Football League, Mike Ryan has outstanding first-hand experience. His unique professional and athletic background has sharpened his skills in the arts of sports injury management, elite rehabilitation, performance enhancement and injury prevention. Mike is now taking his experience to mainstream America. His mission is simple: Sports Medicine advice that is easy to use and brings fast results. Learn more about Mike Ryan

2 thoughts on “Simple Steps to Eliminate Back Pain”

  1. I’ve been enjoying the fitness tips on your site and finding them inspiring too. I may never have the same level of commitment to physical activity as you do, but if I can upgrade my own fitness level – and knowledge – by a few percent each year I’m ahead of the game.

    I don’t usually recommend crunches or their variants to my patients with low back pain because of the potential increased pressure they create on the intervertebral disc. I much prefer the plank pose and its variants. Crunches target the rectus abdominis, which isn’t even specialized for core support (it’s specialized for creating trunk flexion.) The obliques and transverse muscles are specialized for core stabilization.

    Anyway, that’s how I’ve been thinking about it. Any further thoughts?

    Ron Lavine, D.C.

    1. Thanks for your comments and support. I agree with your view on the importance of the abdominal oblique muscles. I love planks for my patients and myself. As for crunches, they apply much less pressure on the low back discs when performed on a firm surface than simply sitting. Think about it, they are in non-weight bearing position when the athlete in laying supine (on their back) and with the movement they are creating a distraction in the posterior lumbar spinous processes as with William Flexion exercises.
      True, the rectus abdominis is not the “big gun” for core stability but these muscles fibers are extremely important for most athletic activities.
      My recommendation: Slow crunches with a complete and fast exhalations on a firm surface is a safe and functional exercise to isolate abdominal muscles.

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