THE BEST WAYS TO RELIEVE LOWER BACK PAIN



Find out about the best natural ways to relieve lower back pain yourself at home and learn when you need to seek medical advice and support


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Some 80% of people have issues with lower back pain. Back pain is also the single largest cause of disability in the UK and referrals for spinal surgery are on the increase.


Millions of people have visited their GP for lower back pain. They have had numerous tests but are still left without a specific diagnosis for their pain and have to self-manage their symptoms with a restricted lifestyle or painkillers.



man-with-painful-back-trying-to-lift-boxes

WHY DO BACKS GET LESS FLEXIBLE?


The lack of flexibility in our backs creeps up on us slowly over the years. When we were younger we tended to be more active. Sitting for many hours of the day increases the pressure on the spinal discs (little spongy doughnut shaped rings that go down your spine and act as shock absorbers). This means that at the end of the day you are slightly shorter than you were in the morning due to water loss. As you lie in bed overnight the discs suck up water again to regain their bounce.


As we age though our discs can get harder and less flexible and prone to damage. Sitting all day also means that, unless you are fairly active the rest of the time, your back and tummy muscles get weaker over time too.




From our mid twenties we also start to lose collagen, which can start to show in the form of mild wrinkles and loss of elasticity in our tissues (see blog post on The Benefits of Collagen). Collagen also helps lubricate our joints. What starts as just a slight tightness in our late twenties or early thirties can be a full blown locked back in our forties. This is why exercise such as gentle stretching, yoga, pilates, walking and swimming can be so beneficial in keeping our bodies flexible and pain free.



WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR FOR LOWER BACK PAIN


There are many medical conditions that can cause lower back pain such as kidney infections, endometriosis, gallstones, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and various other conditions. If you are in severe pain or have been suffering for over a few weeks then you should seek professional advice.


If you have back pain and any of the symptoms below, you should seek immediate medical assistance:


  • sudden weakness in either one or both legs

  • incontinence (bladder or bowel)

  • inability to pass water or faeces from the bladder or bowel

  • numbness or pins and needles in your legs and/or buttocks

  • the pain is accompanied by a high temperature

  • the pain came on immediately after an accident such as a bad fall or something hitting your back or ribs


SIGNS & SYMPTOMS OF LOWER BACK PAIN


woman-sitting-at-a-desk-with-lower-back-pain
back pain can catch you out at any time
  1. You don't feel too bad standing up but if you bend over you don't seem to have the 'power' to pull yourself back up properly, and it hurts.

  2. You find you can't straighten up 100% and walk with a slight hunch or tilted forward slightly.

  3. You limp slightly because one leg doesn't seem to want to work properly, or it causes greater pain if you try and walk properly with both legs.

  4. You get a stabbing pain in the lower back for no reason at all now and again.

  5. You have difficulty getting out of bed or a chair due to the pain in your lower back.

  6. If you try to bend over to pick something up you go over to one side more.

  7. You have a pain in one or both buttocks.

  8. You have a pain in the lower back along with pain in either the groin, side of knee, ankle or toes (or all).

  9. There is a continuous and horrible cramp like pain down your hamstring or calf.

  10. You have a 'locked' back where there is excruciating pain in your back on movement and you find yourself unable to move properly or straighten up.




WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF LOWER BACK PAIN?


Most causes of back pain are what are called 'non specific' in that there appears to be no apparent reason for them, despite the pain. Many cases of lower back pain can be caused by the following:


  1. Injury or accident such as a fall or heavy activities such as gardening or lifting furniture (that you are not really used to)

  2. Sitting for long periods of time

  3. Abnormal postures such as decorating or lifting something in a hard to hold or difficult position

  4. Being pregnant or overweight (where more weight is carried at the front the lower back over arches to try and balance out the weight)

  5. Weak 'core' tummy muscles

  6. Weak back muscles and lack of movement

  7. A new form of exercise where you may have over-done it slightly

  8. Sleeping on an old, worn or broken mattress (or sitting on a non supportive sofa or chair) where your back is not fully supported


HOW TO RELIEVE LOWER BACK PAIN


I was unfortunate enough to have a ruptured spinal disc in my late twenties which trapped some nerves causing me to lose most of the use of both legs and I had to have surgery. Trust me, surgery is not an option you want to go for, partly because there is no guarantee that it will work and can end up making matters worse. With care and exercise I have managed my back for over thirty years now and have, for the most part, been perfectly normal. I walk, run and cycle with no problems. That doesn't mean I don't sometimes get lower back pain and get myself in a mess so here are the things that I do to get fully functioning again.


In most instances lower back pain should relieve itself within a week or two with some self-care at home. It is important to try and keep mobile, even if it is only a little, so that you don't cease up. Treat yourself with care and follow what you back is telling you, and if in any doubt at all, consult a professional at the earliest opportunity. If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, do not attempt any of the exercises or treatments below without consulting your GP.


If the pain is particularly bad take painkillers as necessary. When there is no pain your muscles relax helping you get more mobile. You can also ask your doctor for some non steroid anti-inflammatories or some muscle relaxants as well if the pain is severe or you can't sleep.


EXERCISES & REMEDIES FOR RELIEF OF LOWER BACK PAIN



  • Ice Pack. Use an ice-pack on the area of your back that is painful. Use a special gel ice pack if you can but a bag of frozen peas works well too. Just wrap the ice pack in a thin towel to stop it damaging your skin and place it on the painful area for about 10 minutes. Take it off and wait for about 10 minutes and then do it again. Do this 3 - 4 times a day for the first day of pain and always if you have pain after doing something like lifting or twisting where you know it was this action that brought the pain on. This will help greatly with any inflammation.

  • Knees to Chest. Lie on your back on a soft surface and gently lift your knees up and as close to your chest as comfortable. Clasp your arms around your legs to hold them to your chest. You will feel the bottom of your back open up slightly as the muscles stretch and gently release. Do this carefully and slacken the grip on your legs if you feel any pain. Very gently roll to the left and right if possible. This is an extremely small movement, just enough to gently massage your lower back.

  • Relaxing Leg Lift. Lie on your back on a soft surface. Place a small, flat cushion under your head and lift your legs onto a chair or over the side of a chair. This will take the pressure off your lower back and help the muscles relax. This position can be very good for relieving lower back pain and muscle spasms.

  • The Bridge. (see example below). Lie on the floor with your legs outstretched and your arms by your side. Bend your knees upwards keeping your feet on the floor. Holding your tummy in slightly, gently start to lift your bottom off the floor, curling your back as you go. Lift as high as is comfortably possible (even a little is good) whilst keeping your shoulders on the floor. Your neck, face and shoulders should remain relaxed. Hold for 10 seconds and then gently lower your bottom back down again by curling your back and coming back down to the floor in a controlled manner. Don't let your knees flop outwards, keep them in line with your hips. Repeat this exercise 3 - 6 times if you can and try and get to holding for about 10 - 20 seconds. In between lifting you can hold your knees to your chest (see above) to relax your back. You will probably find that you can lift a tiny bit higher at the end of the session as your back muscles relax more.

woman-on-mat-doing-yoga-bridge-position
the 'Bridge' position helps strengthen back muscles
  • Bottom Lifts. Start in the position for the Bridge as above but this time lift your bottom up and down very slowly. Start gently and try do this five times. If you can manage this try and do 5 more next time and build up as time goes on. This is a great exercise for switching off back spasms and strengthening the back and leg muscles.




  • Sitting Stretch. Sit on the floor upright with your knees bent. Move your legs apart and your feet further away from you. Put your chin towards your chest, lean forwards and put your arms down the inside of your legs and hold on to your ankles or feet. Try to relax into this stretch and hold for as long as comfortable.

  • Use a pillow to help your sleeping position at night. If you sleep on your back put the pillow underneath the back of your knees to take the pressure off your lower back. If you sleep on your side place the pillow between your knees to stop the top knee dropping over the bottom one and pulling your lower back over.

  • Take magnesium supplements (preferably ionic magnesium) and soak in a magnesium bath to help your muscles relax.

  • Use a magnesium spray on the painful area and rub in. I use BetterYou Magnesium Original Spray which is the strongest in the range and I find it very effective at helping reduce pain and relieving muscle spasms and tightness.

  • Don't try and get out of bed by sitting straight up. Protect your back by rolling on to your side and then swinging your legs to the floor and pushing yourself up sideways.

  • If you are sitting a lot during the day make sure you get up every 30 - 40 minutes or so. You don't have to do a lot just change your position from sitting, just something that will break the sitting position.

  • If the chair that you sit in a lot is quite deep try a lumbar cushion to take the strain off the lower back.

  • If you have a sofa that is unsupportive or you spend a lot of time in the car driving and find that either of these give you lower back pain, then try an ergonomic back support. I have had one of these for years and find it really beneficial.

  • You could also try a foot rest under the desk, just make sure you get one that has multiple height settings. I also have one of these and find my sitting position at my desk much improved.

You'll be surprised how making a few adjustments to your sitting position can help improve your lower back pain. If you spend a lot of time each day sitting down and it makes your back pain worse then these options are definitely worth trying.



EXERCISES FOR RELAXING AND STRENGTHENING THE BACK


As your back gets stronger and less painful try the following exercises to help build up your back and muscle strength:


-woman-in-a-yoga-squat-position
the squat position - try the supported squat first as detailed below
  • The Supported Squat. Find some form of solid fixed support, such as the bottom of a bannister or a door frame. Stand upright with your legs about 18 - 24 inches apart and feet turned out just slightly. Hold the support and start to bend your legs in to a squat (see photo above) with your knees going outwards. Move your hands down the sup