HELP YOURSELF THROUGH BACK PAIN
Keys to managing lower back pain
IF you are suffering back pain, it’s most important to remain active. This may seem counter-intuitive, and may be difficult. But extensive research has confirmed prolonged periods of bed rest worsens lower back pain. If you are in pain the best mantra you can enact is ‘little and often’; move a little, as often as you can. Eventually you can gradually increase your range of movement.
Here are some keys to managing lower back pain.
1. Watch out for stress. A stressful environment will worsen your back pain. It’s natural to worry about how bad your pain is, when it is going to heal and how much it is going to affect your efficiency, but worrying too much will harm you.
2. Deep breathing. Feeling tense only makes things worse, so you need to somehow relax your body during periods of pain. Rhythmic and slow breathing helps calm your mind.
3. Use a heat pad or ice pack. Heat and ice is most effective when relieving pain. Generally, the rule is that if an injury is hot to the touch, use ice; if it’s cold, use heat. But you may develop a personal preference so be prepared to try one or the other and stick with it for the first few weeks.
4. Consider lumbar supports such as back support, corsets and braces. These might also be helpful in alleviating pain for some people.
5. Follow a home exercise program. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep active and moving. Once the original pain has passed, a home exercise program will help you to progress.
6. Use of pillows. When sleeping, placing a pillow between or under your knees may help your back.
7. Do light stretching exercises several times a day. This will help with the pain and may be continued as a preventative measure. Remember ‘little and often’; move a little as often as possible, within tolerable levels of pain.
What exercises will help?
Often the first place to start is posture – the cause of so much back pain. It’s important that your body is in alignment, otherwise you are working inefficient muscle groups and systems.
But there are some good exercises to consider as well.
Here are my top seven exercises for back pain.
1. Cat and camel stretch. Get down on all fours, with your hands under the shoulders and knees below your hips. First step – let your head down and try to create a slight curve of your back towards the ceiling (like a cat stretching). Hold the position for
YOUR BODY IS DESIGNED TO MOVE... ‘LITTLE & OFTEN’ TO IMPROVE YOUR RANGE OF MOVEMENT.
five seconds. Once done, try and sag your trunk as far as you can so that your back is arched, but do not pull it down. Hold again for five seconds.
2. Hamstring stretch. Lie straight on your back with your leg as straight as possible and try to gently pull it up, until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with same side three-to-five times and then repeat with the other leg.
3. Knee to chest. Lie on your back on a table or any firm surface – bend one of your legs forward, holding your hands tightly behind the thigh, while keeping your opposite leg flat. Pull it towards your chest (pain permitting). Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and then repeat.
4. Pelvic tilt. Lie straight on your back, with your feet flat and knees bent. Push the small of your back into the floor by pulling the lower abdominal muscles up and inside. Hold the back flat as you breathe in and out. Hold for five seconds. Repeat.
5. Pelvic lift. Lie on your back, keeping your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Push down through your feet and slowly lift your bottom up from the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. Return to original position and repeat 10 times. See image below.
6. Piriformis stretch. Lie down on the floor with one foot placed on the lateral aspect of the opposite side knee. Now, with your arm, gently try to pull the thigh of your bent leg and twist the body. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the same side for threeto-five times and then repeat with the other leg.
7. Push-up. Lie flat on your stomach, place your hands and palms down, under your shoulders and straighten your arms to raise your body from the floor. Keeping your body straight, lower your upper body, hold for five seconds, then return to normal position and repeat. If push-ups are difficult then bend your knees and push up from your knees rather than your feet.
The exercises should only be attempted within tolerable comfort levels. Stop immediately if any exercises cause pain or increase your symptoms. Some exercises will agree with your injury but others will not. After doing them for a period of 24 hours, listen to your body and continue with the most effective.
Stubborn back pain may need professional advice and hands-on treatment. It’s important that any professional you see provides a diagnosis and a plan of action. Expect to see some improvements in three sessions or fewer – if there is no improvement then consider a second opinion.
• Regular movement within tolerable pain levels is critical.
• Follow an exercise program, do stretches and use other supports such as ice and heat.
• If there’s no improvement seek professional help and don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion.
Kusal Goonewardena is an experienced physiotherapist, lecturer, consultant and mentor to thousands of physiotherapy students around the world. Kusal has authored books including: Low Back Pain – 30 Days to Pain Free; 3 Minute Workouts; and co-authored Natural Healing: Quiet and Calm. Kusal consults via his clinic, Elite Akademy.