Back pain is an ever-increasing problem many Americans have to deal with throughout their lives.
It is, in fact, the world’s leading cause of disability around the world. In a 2009 study conducted by the UNC School of Medicine, it was revealed that the number of chronic back pain has increased in the United States from 3.9 percent in 1992 to 10.2 percent in 2006.
What’s more, the research also shows that over 80 percent of all Americans will experience at least one episode of back pain sometime in their lives.
The causes of back pain are numerous and difficult for doctors to accurately ascertain for each individual back pain sufferer.
These can range from things like muscle or ligament strains, arthritis, bulging or ruptured discs, skeletal irregularities, or osteoporosis, among others.
These conditions, in turn, may be the result of several factors such as age, lack of exercise, weight gain, various diseases, improper lifting, smoking, or even depression.
But whatever the case may be, back pain can make getting through the day hard. It can put a hamper on both your personal and professional life, and may not even let you sleep properly.
Fortunately, however, surgery is rarely needed to treat back pain. Nevertheless, a lot of the medication out there is proving to be quite ineffective in treating the symptoms.
This has lead many doctors prescribing opioids to their patients in an effort to mediate the pain. But while these opioids have proven to be a short-term solution, prolonged use may have many unforeseen side effects, and can definitely lead to addiction and possible overdose.
The increasing number of back pain sufferers, coupled with this overprescription of opioids, has definitely added to the opioid crisis the United States is currently going through.
Pain Management through Prevention
While an apple a day won’t actually keep the doctor at bay when it comes to back pain, prevention, in this case, comes in a different form.
Certain physical activities done on a regular basis are the key to preventing back pain from reoccurring, or from ever happening in the first place. Here are several things you can do on a daily basis to prevent back pain.
Low-Intensity Exercise – Certain physical exercises that involve low-impact aerobic activities.
Things like swimming, water therapy, yoga, tai chi, or even plain old walking can strengthen your back and allow your muscles to function better overall. Depending on the type of back pain you have or depending on your age, certain activities may work better than others.
Consult your doctor and see what he or she recommends.
Core Strength and Flexibility – Developing your core muscles (abdominal and back) is key to keeping back pain at bay.
These muscles act as a sort of corset, if you will, keeping your entire upper body in the proper upright position.
One such core-muscle exercise that works all of these muscles is known as the Rottiserie Core Workout.
It takes roughly 5 minutes and is fairly easy to do. But again, consult your doctor before attempting it, to make sure that it doesn’t put too much strain at once.
Keeping your weight in check – Obesity puts a lot of strain on one’s back, making it increasingly difficult to walk or even stand for prolonged periods of time. By keeping your weight in check, you can prevent back pain from happening or reappearing.
Proper Posture – Knowing how to keep the right posture throughout the day will also help you prevent back pain.
If you have to stand for long periods of time, we suggest lifting one leg up on a stool or surface, in order to take the load off from your lower back.
When sitting, we recommend you chose a chair that has good lumbar support, armrests, and a swivel base.
If this is not an option, then place a small pillow between your lower back and the chair, keep your knees and hips level and change your position frequently – every half an hour, or so.
If you are to lift something heavy, we suggest you use your legs to do most of the work, keep your back straight and bend only your knees.
Now, whether you experience back pain or not, these prevention methods may prove incredibly useful over the short, mid, and long-term.
But if you are already experiencing back pain, chronic or not, it is advisable to consult your doctor and see which of these exercises will work best for you, or which may not be advisable under your condition.
Living with a Bad Back
Overall, an acute episode of back pain can last anywhere from four to twelve weeks. But statistics show that close to 80% of sufferers can experience another episode within a year, or even less.
In other words, back pain can subside over time, but it can re-appear at any given moment. Learning how to cope and get comfy with a bad back is crucial in having a normal life under these circumstances.
Leading a Healthy Lifestyle – What’s good for the entire body, is also good for your back and spine. Quitting smoking will be your first priority in mitigating the effects of back pain.
Smoking can prevent your body from delivering important nutrients to the discs in your back. Regular physical exercise, like the ones mentioned above, will aid in preventing and lessening the pains of a bad back.
Hamstring stretching exercises also help relieve the strain on your lower back muscles.
A good and balanced nutrition will supply you with all the elements needed for a good back.
Relaxation – Learning how to live with back pain is far easier said than done.
But one thing that can help in this regard is to understand what pain actually is and what it signifies. Interestingly enough, even specialists have a hard time properly defining pain.
According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, the definition of pain is as follows: “Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”
This definition is vague, to say the least, and it was probably meant to be that way, given the fact that even scientists don’t really know all that much about it.
Nevertheless, pain is, first and foremost, a sensation.
It was shown that, with enough training, all sensations in the body can be mitigated – pain included. There are certain techniques that have shown promise in helping with back pain.
Meditation training – Meditation is a way through which you can relax your entire body.
Even though it requires some training to do properly, meditation can help mediate the effects of pain. It involves concentration and slow, deep breathing.
When done properly, meditation can focus your attention away from the pain itself, relaxing and relieving tension from the muscles.
Biofeedback – Like meditation, biofeedback in a relaxation technique.
It is done with a professional that can teach you how to control your bodily functions, such as breathing or muscle tension, by making use of a special device.
When you are able to relieve muscle tension, the machine will immediately announce your success.
And once you’ve mastered this technique, you will no longer need the professional or his machine to assist you.
Pleasant distractions – Another key element in learning how to get comfy with a bad back is to distract yourself from the pain.
This is, again, easier said than done. But it was shown that thinking about and focusing on pleasant mental pictures, events, or kind words can spare your brain from being slowly consumed by relentless pain sensations.
There are certain tapes available on the market that can teach you how to learn and master these visual imagery skills.
Or simply focusing yourself on other actions such as reading a good book, watching a great TV show, or engaging yourself in an interesting conversation, can also help manage the pain.
Whatever takes your mind away from it, should help you through the day.
Hypnosis – Hypnosis is another relaxation technique.
Some people chose to go to a therapist to help them reduce the feeling of pain. Others, on the other hand, learn to hypnotize themselves, with similar effects. Self-hypnosis can be seen as another form of relaxation.
Heat and Ice Therapy – Applying ice or heat to a painful area is a cheap and easy way of managing pain. While ice numbs the area and reduces inflammation, heat can relax the muscles and increase blood flow.
While these therapies might work with pack pain management, they can also be applied before and after doing your daily physical exercise routine.
Apply a heated pad to your back before starting the exercises, to warm up your muscles, and then ice after, to prevent muscle soreness and inflammation.
The Everyday Things
What we’ve talked up to this point can definitely help, but when it comes to back pain, the simple, everyday things can still become a hassle. In this section, we will be focusing on what how to properly do these things so as to keep the pain in check.
When it comes to back pain, too much sitting is in many cases, the number one culprit behind it.
The human body was designed to sit on average two hours per day, while the rest of the time being spent on your feet. With this in mind, you should avoid sitting as much as possible.
And when you do sit, do it only for short periods of time (10 -15 minutes).
When you do have to sit, do it by keeping your hips and knees at a right angle. Do not cross your legs.
Sit at the end of your chair and draw yourself so as to accentuate the curve on your back completely.
Hold this position for several seconds, then release it a bit – this is a good sitting posture.
Always find ways to support your arms and shoulders.
When standing up, do it by first moving at the edge of the seat and then using your legs and avoid bending forward at your waist.
Try to always use a back support when driving.
Move the seat closer to the steering wheel, so as to allow your back to curve slightly.
The seat should be close enough so your knees can be higher, or at the same level as your hips, but at the same time, to be able to bend and your feet to reach the pedals.
When you’re standing, remember to always keep your head up, chest forward, shoulders straight and your weight evenly distributed on both legs. Avoid standing in the same place for too long.
But if you do, try to elevate one foot on a stool or other object and alternate every 15 minutes, or so. If need be, you can also adjust the working table height so that you don’t have to bend over.
Bending, Kneeling and Lifting Objects
Whatever of these activities you need to do, remember to always keep your feet apart, tighten your stomach muscles and lift by using your legs.
Keep your back straight as much as you can. Avoid lifting heavy objects over 30 pounds, wherever possible. When you do lift object below the waist level, do it by letting your legs and knees do all the work.
When carrying a heavy object, keep it close to your body with your arms bent.
A good night’s sleep is essential for living a healthy life.
But sleeping with back pain can be much harder than expected. Fortunately, there are some tips on how to have a better sleep when dealing with a bad back.
Find a Good Position – Certain sleeping positions are better at dealing with back pain than others.
Sleeping on your back or on your side are the best when it comes to this particular issue.
If you are sleeping on your back, try placing a pillow underneath your knees, or use a rolled-up towel and place it under the curvature of your lower back.
If you sleep you your side, then put a pillow between your knees and draw them slightly toward your chest. Do not, however, draw your knees too much, otherwise, you will put too much strain on your back. Also, avoid sleeping on your stomach.
This position solicits your back the most. But if this is how you are used to, then try placing a pillow under your stomach, thus taking some pressure off.
Get a Good Mattress – For years, doctors have been prescribing hard mattresses for people with back pain.
But more recent research has shown that this is not always the best solution.
Soft mattresses, on the other hand, can make you sink in too deep, thus putting your back under much strain.
In the end, there is no one mattress that works for everyone and you might need to try out several and see which one helps the most – either at friends’ house or in hotels, for instance.
Getting In and Out Carefully – This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it is, nevertheless, important.
Avoid bending when getting in and out of bed. Try instead to roll yourself onto one side and use your arms to push yourself upward. Swing your legs out of bed and raise up slowly.
Do some Stretching and Work Your Core Before Bed – You should do some stretching and core exercises before going to bed. These will strengthen your muscles and keep you in the right position overnight.
All in all, back pain does not need to control and dictate your life. Learning how to manage it can become part of your daily routine, without having to turn to opioids or other such strong drugs to get through the day.
Take it slow, don’t expect overnight results, and face every challenge life throws at you! You are not alone in this, after all.