DIY Relief For Back Pain


Odds are about 8 out of 10 that an American will develop back pain. It causes more global disability than any other medical condition. The affliction can strike the lower, middle, or upper back.

Sitting too much, sports injuries and activities that strain the muscles (like weight lifting and, in my case, weeding) can trigger agonizing shooting or throbbing sensations that make it hard to relax, much less concentrate on tasks at hand – like work.

The expression that someone “put their back out” is so common that most people know what it means: the spinal column has been deformed or compromised, producing pinched nerves and excruciating pain all the time or in certain positions.

All day long, we sit or stand or walk. If you think about it, your back works hard to support the rest of you – literally. Figuratively, a person who is said to be “spineless” or who “lacks a backbone” does not have much determination and is not willing to take risks.

Some people think that maintaining a supple and strong spine through exercise and stretching (yoga) also builds character and self-confidence. A healthy, flexible spine certainly does tend to heal more quickly from injuries.

Immediate treatment after an injury can make a big difference in reducing the intensity and duration of an episode of painful back inflammation. Mary Ann Wilmarth, DPT, speaking for the American Physical Therapy Association, said about back pain:

“Early intervention can help prevent a chronic problem from developing and obviate the need for medication and surgery.”

The question now is: how to treat back pain yourself, without having to pay over-priced treatment fees? (I was once charged by a University Hospital Physical Therapy unit a whopping $700 for a first-visit 20-minute “assessment” session where no therapy occurred – I was handed a faded photocopy of three exercises to do at home and a 3-foot length of ugly orange stretchy elastic banding, cut from a huge industrial-size roll, worth perhaps 50 cents. Meh and feh. I voted with my wallet and never returned.)

First, as mentioned previously, preventative measures to ward off back pain include regularly stretching and exercising the muscles in the back. Simply touching your toes from a standing or seated position is very effective for pulling apart the long muscles in the body.

Work out your core muscles in the abdominal area with crunches and leg lifts to share life’s burdens with your aching back. Keep in mind that muscles and nerves connect the front of you to your back.

Focus throughout the day on maintaining good posture (just like your mother told you). Sitting up straight with squared shoulders and a level chin on a constant basis will prevent unwanted and unnecessary pressure on your back. Wilmarth said that back pain often creeps up over the years:

“Little things add up. You can increase the pressure on your back by 50% simply by leaning over the sink incorrectly to brush your teeth. Keeping the right amount of curvature in the back takes pressure off the nerves and will reduce back pain.”

Once back pain occurs, over the counter pain relievers like aspirin and ibuprofen may help. Taking too many pain reducers can damage the liver or kidneys so avoid prolonged use, especially if you have a history of these diseases.

And it might surprise you to know that light activity, like a short walk or a water workout, can reduce back pain. Once you overcome the urge to remain perfectly still and start to move around, tight muscles may loosen up and the body may release pain-killing endorphins.

Alternating heat and cold packs can be very soothing to sore muscles. The blood vessels near the afflicted area usually respond well from expanding (contracting) due to warmth and shrinking (constricting) from low temperatures.

Apply an over-the-counter pain-relief cream from a local pharmacy or online. Look for the ingredient capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers hot. Another effective soothing agent is menthol – mint. Applying a small amount of menthol directly to the skin can switch off pain receptors in the body. Avoid overdoing it with any menthol product and always keep it away from your eyes, nose, and ears.

Arnica is another homeopathic cure that is applied topically on the skin’s surface. It can help reduce not only muscle pain but bruises and swelling. Arnica can be found in creams and gels over the counter.

Getting new Posturepedic shoes can improve posture and relieve the slow creep of back pain. High heels are known carriers of back pain. Because the foot has a natural curve (the arch), shoes that are too flat can “let you down” and cause muscle strain that travels up to the back region.

Reconfiguring your workstation might change your life – for the better. Even if you can’t get up to move around as much as you’d like, using ergonomic office equipment will go a long way toward improving your quality of life by alleviating back pain. Standing desks are gaining popularity because they solve the problem of posture versus productivity.

Get enough good sleep. Tossing and turning all night can be tough on the old back. I discovered that sleeping on a mattress with a box spring was awful for my back. When I switch to a mattress made from NASA’s memory foam (the real deal, not a knock-off), the difference was amazing – and heavenly. No more insomnia, much less back pain.

If back pain persists for more than three days or so, consult with your doctor or naturopath.

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