How to Relieve Lower Back Pain

If you have lower back pain, you are not alone. About 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lifetimes. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days. In a large survey, more than a quarter of adults reported experiencing lower back pain during the past 3 months.

Men and women are equally affected by lower back pain, which can range in intensity from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp sensation that leaves the person incapacitated. Pain can begin abruptly as a result of an accident or by lifting something heavy, or it can develop over time due to age-related changes of the spine. Sedentary lifestyles also can set the stage for lower back pain, especially when a weekday routine of getting too little exercise is punctuated by strenuous weekend workout.

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Most lower back pain is acute, or short term, and lasts a few days to a few weeks. It tends to resolve on its own with self-care and there is no residual loss of function. The majority of acute lower back pain is mechanical in nature, meaning that there is a disruption in the way the components of the back (the spine, muscle, intervertebral discs, and nerves) fit together and move.

Whether it is from an injury, illness, or old age, lower back pain can be mitigated with the right knowledge and care. Read on to learn how to relieve lower back pain.

Causes of Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain often develops without a specific cause that your doctor can identify with a test or imaging study. Conditions commonly linked to lower back pain include:

Muscle or ligament strain. If you’re in poor physical condition, constant strain on your back may cause painful muscle spasms. Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement may strain back muscles and spinal ligaments.

Intervertebral disc degeneration. This is one of the most common mechanical causes of lower back pain, and it occurs when the usually rubbery discs lose integrity as a normal process of aging. In a healthy back, intervertebral discs provide height and allow bending, flexion, and torsion of the lower back. As the discs deteriorate, they lose their cushioning ability.

Skeletal irregularities. Back pain can occur if your spine curves in an abnormal way. Scoliosis, a condition in which your spine curves to the side, also may lead to lower back pain, but generally only if the scoliosis is quite severe.

Arthritis. Osteoarthritis can affect the lower back. In some cases, arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition called spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis. A narrowing of the spine space around the spinal cord can put pressure on nerves. The narrowing is typically caused by bone spurs that have developed as a result of osteoarthritis.

Osteoporosis. Compression fractures of your spine’s vertebrae can occur if your bones become porous and brittle.

Diagnosing the Lower Back Pain Problem

Find out what is causing the pain. Most lower back pain goes away after a few weeks. If your back pain, however, persists for more than two weeks, see an internist and get a referral to specialist to diagnose the pain.

Correct any bad posture, if necessary. If you have bad posture, it may be causing or contributing to your lower back pain. The lower back is particularly susceptible to pain caused by bad posture because it supports a good deal of your weight.

  • Good posture is having the spine curved slightly inward at the lower back, slightly outward at the upper back, and slightly inward again at the neck (so the neck is upright but tilted slightly forward).
  • If your shoulders tend to slouch, pull them back a bit so they are centered. Do not expand your chest out and pull your shoulder excessively back like a preening bird.

Rest. You use your lower back muscles directly while bending forward and back, and also indirectly, while exercising and moving around. Although your lower back muscles are strong, they require rest. Sometimes, the onset of pain will significantly diminish when the lower back muscles are given the proper rest.

Make sure your workstation is ergonomically supportive. We spend countless hours at work, toiling away, often not in a very good position for our lower and upper back, our legs, and our hands. Correct your workstation to improve your posture and ease lower back pain.

  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. This will often depend on how high your chair is, so don’t be afraid to tinker with it to achieve good results.
  • Change your posture regularly. Sitting in one position for long peroids of time is not healthy. So switch it up. Sit upright for most of the time. Sit reclined for some of the time. Sit declined for a little bit.
  • Find time to stand. Every hour, take a 5 minute break if you can and walk around. Inspect the sky. Talk to a coworker. Whatever it is, break up the monotony of being seated for hours on end.

How to Relieve Lower Back Pain

Treat muscle spasm, if necessary. Muscle spasms occur when smooth muscle in your body contracts as a result of the autonomic nervous system. They are often painful and are a symptom of muscle strain or tear.

  • Gently stretch the lower back, moving back and forth to break the spasm cycle. If stretching causes excessive amounts of pain, stop and see a doctor. Stretching should help resolve the muscle contraction.

Relieve the pain with heat. Heat can also be an effective source of comfort and pain relief for lower back pain. For effective temperature therapy, try alternating between heat and cold treatments.

  • Use moist heat on the lower back for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Moist heat (baths, steams, heat packs) tends to work better than dry heat.
  • Purchase and use an all-day heat wrap, available OTC at most pharmacies.
  • Try not to fall asleep with an electrical heating pad on. Set your heating pad to low or medium, never to high, and set an alarm if you think you may fall asleep while the heating pad is still on.

Relieve the pain with ice. Ice helps constrict the blood vessels underneath the skin, dulling pain and easing swelling. If you want to use ice on your lower back, there are a number of ways medical practitioners advice to apply it:

  • Use an ice-towel. Wet a towel with cool water, wring out most of the moisture, and place into a plastic bag. Put the bag into the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes, remove towel from bag, and place over lower back.
  • Use a homemade ice-pack. Put one pound (0.45 kg) of ice into a plastic bag. Pour in just enough water into the bag to cover the ice. Squeeze excess air from the bag, seal it, and apply to lower back.
  • Use a frozen bag of vegetables. Peas work particularly well.
  • Use a homemade slush pack. Mix three cups of water and one cup of denatured alcohol into a freezer bag. Wait until slush forms (but before it becomes completely frozen), remove, and apply to lower back.

Walk around. If you can, walk around for a good hour on the treadmill, or outdoors, where there are natural inclines and declines. Don’t push yourself, and stop whenever there’s significant pain. Walking is considered by some doctors to be “the best exercise” for back pain, as it promotes healthy circulation and naturally strengthens the lower back muscles.

Relieve as much physical and emotional stress as possible.Try to remove as many stressors from your life as possible. In addition to simply feeling better, stress reduction might help your ability to recover from lower back pain. Studies show that people who are depressed may have a harder time recovering from back pain, which in turn makes them more depressed.

Test out other back therapies which could provide treatment and relief. In addition to walking, back stretches, and core stabilization, other treatments can offer targeted pain relief and even treatment. Explore which of these options may work for you:

  • Massage. There are numerous kinds of massage, some of which are good for the back (Swedish massage) and others that may not be good for a back injury (Shiatsu massage). Talk to your doctor or masseuse about options.
  • Acupuncture. Acupuncture is the ancient Chinese medicine using needles and pressure points to access the chi. If that sounds dubious, just consider: several tests have demonstrated that people suffering from lower back pain experienced decreased pain and increased mobility after acupuncture.
  • Spinal manipulation. Many people who benefit from spinal manipulation see results pretty much right away. Many chiropractors or physical therapists who practice spinal manipulation will work with your doctor to devise the best course of treatment.

Stretches for Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain can be a vicious cycle. Your back hurts, so you don’t want to make it worse by stretching or exercising. But by not stretching or exercising, you weaken the muscles in the lower back, leaving them more susceptible to pain and less supportive of the weight they are designed to hold.

Almost everyone can benefit from stretching the soft tissues – the muscles, ligaments and tendons – in the back, legs, buttock, and around the spine.

The spinal column and its contiguous muscles, ligaments, and tendons are all designed to move, and limitations in this motion can make back pain worse.

Keep the following in mind when starting a stretching routine as part of a program of lower back stretches:

  • Wear comfortable clothes that won’t bind.
  • Stretching should be pain free; do not force the body into difficult positions.
  • Move into the stretch slowly and avoid bouncing, which may actually tear muscles.
  • Stretch on a clean, flat surface that is large enough to move freely.
  • Hold stretches long enough (20-30 seconds) to allow muscles or joints to become loose.
  • Repeat the stretch, generally 5-10 times.

1. Supine Hamstring Stretch

Lying on your back, bend your right knee into your chest and place a strap or rolled-up towel around the ball of your foot. Straighten your leg toward the ceiling. Press out through both heels. If the lower back feels strained, bend the left knee and place the foot on the ground. Hold for 3-5 minutes and then switch to the left let for 3-5 minutes.

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2. Sphinx

Lying on your stomach, prop yourself up on your forearms. Align your elbows directly under your shoulders. Press firmly through your palms and the tops of your feet. Press your pubic bone forward. You will feel sensations in your lower back, but breathe through it. You are allowing blood flow into the lower back for healing. Hold for 1-3 minutes.

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3. Two-Knee Twist

Lying on your back, bend your knees into your chest and bring your arms out at a T. As you exhale lower your knees to ground on the right. Keep both shoulders pressing down firmly. If the left shoulder lifts, lower your knees further away from the right arm. Hold for 1-2 minutes each side.

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4. Pigeon

From all-fours, bring your right knee behind your right wrist with your lower leg at a diagonal toward your left hip. Square off your hips toward the ground. Bend forward. Widen the elbows and place one hand on top of the other as a pillow for your forehead. Hold 2-3 minutes and then switch to the left side for 2-3 minutes.

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5. Thread the Needle

Lying on your back, bend both knees with the feet flat on the ground. Bend the right knee like a figure four, with the outer left ankle to the right thigh. Lift the left foot into the air, bringing the left calf parallel to the ground. Thread your right hand between the opening of the legs and interlace your hands behind your left thigh. Hold 2-3 minutes and then repeat on the other side.

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6. Legs Up the Wall

Scoot your buttocks all the way into the wall and swing your feet up the wall. This pose is excellent for relaxing the muscles of the lower back and drains stagnant fluid from the feet and ankles. Do this pose after a challenging workout and always after traveling by plane. Hold for 5-10 minutes.

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7. Bottom to Heels Stretch

Kneel on all fours, with your knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Don’t over-arch your lower back. Keep your neck long, your shoulders back and don’t lock your elbows.

Slowly take your bottom backwards, maintaining the natural curve in the spine. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return to the starting position.

  • Repeat 8 to 10 times.
  • Avoid sitting back on your heels if you have a knee problem.
  • Ensure correct positioning with the help of a mirror.
  • Only stretch as far as feels comfortable.

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Related Video: Stretches for Lower Back Pain


Exercises for Lower Back Pain

A series of exercise routines you can do to help relieve any lower back pain including tension, stiffness and soreness.

1. Knee Rolls

Lie on your back. Place a small flat cushion or book under your head. Keep your knees bent and together. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Roll your knees to one side, followed by your pelvis, keeping both shoulders on the floor. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return to the starting position.

  • Repeat 8 to 10 times, alternating sides.
  • Only move as far as feels comfortable.
  • Place a pillow between your knees for comfort.


2. Back Extensions

Lie on your stomach, and prop yourself on your elbows, lengthening your spine. Keep your shoulders back and neck long.

Keeping your neck long, arch your back up by pushing down on your hands. You should feel a gentle stretch in the stomach muscles as you arch backwards. Breathe and hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Return to the starting position.

  • Repeat 8 to 10 times.
  • Don’t bend your neck backwards.
  • Keep your hips grounded.


3. Deep Abdominal Strengthening

Lie on your back. Place a small, flat cushion or book under your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet straight and hip-width apart. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

As you breathe out, draw up the muscles of your pelvis and lower abdominals, as though you were doing up an imaginary zip along your stomach. Hold this gentle contraction while breathing from your abdomen for 5 to 10 breaths, and relax.

  • Repeat 5 times.
  • This is a slow, gentle tightening of the lower abdominal region. Don’t pull these muscles in using more than 25% of your maximum strength.
  • Make sure you don’t tense up through the neck, shoulders or legs.


4. Pelvic Tilts

Lie on your back. Place a small, flat cushion or book under your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet straight and hip-width apart. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Gently flatten your low back into the floor and contract your stomach muscles. Now tilt your pelvis towards your heels until you feel a gentle arch in your lower back, feeling your back muscles contracting and return to the starting position.

  • Repeat 10 to 15 times, tilting your pelvis back and forth in a slow rocking motion.
  • Keep your deep abdominals working throughout.
  • Don’t press down through the neck, shoulders or feet.


WARNINGS

  • If lower back pain persists for more than a couple of weeks, see your doctor.
  • If you are unsure about what is causing your lower back pain, see your doctor.

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