Back doctor discusses 29 important ways to relieve lower back pain

Low back pain can be relieved, improved or eliminated by making a few personal changes and using simple procedures that are outlined in this list of 29 tactics.

Lower back pain is such a common complaint that chances are you or someone in your family has frequent back pain.  Of those who experience significant back pain before 30 years of age, 10% of these people will eventually develop a chronic low back problem which means their low back pain will be essentially constant – even though many times it does not have to be this way.

From my experience a very high percent of people who suffer from constant low back pain are able to reduce their problem anywhere from a small to a great degree by doing some simple and obvious things that are found in this list of 29 things to do to reduce or avoid low back pain.  Many people mistakenly assume that because they have a history of low back pain due to prior injury or arthritis they must continue to have pain in the low back. It never occurs to them that their constant pain might be helped by doing certain things that are entirely in their control. After investing personal involvement in their recovery, learning about their own problem and making physical improvement in their underlying condition, I have time and time again witnessed people who gained control of their painful condition. Reducing pain in the lower back begins with the idea that making small specific life-style changes can often result in drastic reduction of low back pain.

Not all of these 29 ideas will apply to any one person. Look over this list to find just one or two things that make sense to you.  Some of these ideas are extremely common and simple, and are not really creative.  Many ideas you have heard before, like doing low back exercise or stretches.  Yet, these ideas are at the top of the list because of their importance and the fact that so few people do them.  It seems that most everyone needs to be reminded and prodded to get busy with these basic ideas.  All you have to do is select just one or two that appeal to you.

29 ways to control, eliminate or relieve low back pain, in random order:

1.  Specific low back stretches to increase joint flexibility, reduce tension and lengthen ligaments in a tight and painful low back.  Incorporate a simple daily routine of low back stretches in your day when time and opportunity become available; the more you do and the more you accomplish, the better our back will feel. Get in the habit of stretching during idle time.  At stoplights when you are driving or during commercials while you are watching TV, make that time productive to help your back problem.  Do low back or neck stretches or Kegel exercises for those 30 to 60 seconds you would otherwise be wasting.

2.  Specific low back exercises to increase strength at least 2 or 3 times a week.  If formal exercise is not your cup of tea, then at least get more active during the day.

3.  General body exercise to tone the body as a whole and to improve cardiovascular health, such as swimming, biking or walking.  The idea is that increased state of muscle tone and increased activity level will benefit all areas of the body by improving lymphatic drainage and release of a category of brain chemicals called endorphins that reduce pain everywhere in the body.

4.  Avoid prolonged standing whenever possible.  Look for ways to sit to rest the back or at least change posture frequently.  If you must stand, at least vary the way you stand and where you stand so that these small differences can help lessen the load on your low back.

5.  Avoid prolonged sitting whenever possible.  Getting up and moving is a good way to reduce the low back postural stress of sitting for a long time.  This suggestion and the one before it about avoiding prolonged standing by sitting to rest the back are not contradictory.  What they both tell you is that you must not stay in anyone posture for too long, and that you must listen to what your back s telling you about what you are doing to it, and heed the message of pain.

6.  Focus on improving your posture. Improved posture can dramatically relieve back pain. The steps toward improved posture only need to be small to result in immediately effective pain reduction.  Try not to slouch when sitting or standing. Sit up straight with your back against the back rest of your chair and your feet flat on the floor. Keep your knees slightly higher than your hips when sitting.  Stand with a slight bend to the knees while the feet are kept shoulder distance apart and the chest is kept high.

7.  Try a few yoga classes. This is a great way to stretch and strengthen all the muscles of your body, especially the core muscle, as well as reduce general stress and improve your posture.  Many yoga instructors attend special classes to learn how to help those with chronic low back pain. A yoga instructor can be a wealth of information about taking care of your low back.

8.  Avoid heavy lifting whenever possible. Get help whenever possible.

9.  Lift correctly.  When you lift something heavy, keep the back upright and straight, tighten the abdominal muscles as you bend the legs and keep the load close to your body. Lift with your large leg muscles, not your back.  If the load is heavy get help.  If you cannot lift correctly, perhaps you should not lift at all.

10.  Lose weight.  Reduce the strain on your lower and knees by reducing your body weight.  For your health in general and for your back in particular, weight loss can be a major step toward feeling better in all areas of your life.

11.  Do not sleep face down, on your stomach. Sleeping on your tummy forces the neck into a severe twist which in turn causes the low back to also rotate severely.  Lie on your back or either side when you sleep.  If you are a tummy sleeper, break the habit now.

12.  Stop smoking cigarettes. Nicotine destroys vitamin C in the body, leading to breakdown of connective tissue.  This weakness results in joints that ache and more easily deform. There are dozens – hundreds – of reasons to not smoke; add low back pain to the list.

13.  Do not twist while lifting. The low back is not built to twist; it is built to only bend forward and backward.  If you attempt to twist while lifting you will injure your back.  If you must move something you are carrying off to the side, avoid twisting the back by pivoting or shifting your feet like a dancer who pivots the forefoot on the floor or ground.

14.  Build back strength while you are standing.  For 30 seconds stand on one leg only, like when you are doing the dishes, standing in line at the grocery store or brushing your teeth.  Then switch and do the same on the other leg.  Allow one leg to balance all your body weight. This will build core strength and tone neglected quadriceps and hamstring muscles.  Use the sink or shopping cart for stability.

15.  Change your position often.  When standing for long periods of time while working or in the grocery store line, take a slightly wider than normal foot stance or alternate placing more body weight on one foot for several minutes and then more body weight on the other foot.

16.  Stand and sit up straight while doing your upright work.  Avoid bending and pushing while vacuuming, typing, raking or other daily tasks.

17.  Don’t reach when you lift if you can avoid it. By keeping the weight you are going to lift close to you it is possible to dramatically reduce low back stress.

18.  Pass the veggies, please.  Calcium, potassium and vitamin K are essential for strong bones and good muscle tone.  Eat broccoli, spinach, and other dark leafy greens to increase muscle tone and soft tissue density.  Healthy well-fed connective tissue is less likely to hurt, and more likely to heal.

19.  Get tighter core muscles. Develop strong core muscles (primarily abdominal muscles) to reduce low back stress and general spine fatigue.  While lying on the back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, flatten the low back by tilting the pelvis backward.  At this point when the pelvis is rotated backward as far as possible, contract the abdominal muscles to pull the belly button toward the spine.  When this is done correctly the pelvis should lift slightly off the floor. Hold a tight contraction for the count of ten; do ten of these in the AM and PM.

20.  Keep good sitting posture at work especially if you do a lot of sitting.  Sitting at a desk for eight or more hours daily might look like easy work for those who stand a lot, but prolonged sitting can be very damaging to the back.  Sit with the back against the backrest of your chair; if necessary use a lumbar pillow for added support and keep both feet flat on the floor or resting on a low raiser like a briefcase or a few books to reduce back stress.

21.  Rather than taking pain medication several times a day, day in and day out, try to figure out what you might be doing to cause the pain you are trying to numb.  Once you know what you are doing to hurt yourself you are well on the way to getting off the pain medication and to feeling better.

22.  Consider you might be suffering from fibromyalgia, and not a traditional bad back in the usual sense.  If you have fibromyalgia but are not treating yourself for it you are going to be hurting without end.  Find out and act accordingly.

23.  Low back traction is easy to do at home:  While in bed or the floor, lie on your back.  Bend the knees and put both feet on the bed or floor. Place the palm of your right hand on the top or front surface of your right thigh, about where it connects to the pelvis; do the same with the left hand placed palm side down on the top of the left thing near the point of attachment to the pelvis.  With both hands in contact with the thighs, push the hands against the thighs by straightening the arms a little.  Relax the low back and pelvic muscles while you are pushing your thighs away from your head.  This will cause you to feel a gentle and comfortable traction in the low back.  Because the most sensitive part of your low back will be the level where your pain is origination, you will feel most of the traction sensation from your area of greatest spinal distress.  Just a few minutes a day of this manual traction can do often do wonders for low back pain from a worn or irritated lumbar disc.

24.  Whatever exercise or work you must do, start slow and easy and build up from there.  Pace yourself.  Do not just jump in to an activity without giving your back time to not only get used to it, but to also tell you if it likes what you are doing and how you are doing it.  Always listen to what your back tells you because it will always win out.

25.  After driving a car for a long time, take your time to slowly get out from behind the wheel.  Use the steering wheel for leverage and support to get out of the car.  Also roll down the window on the driver’s door so you have a handy place to hold onto for added support as you leave the car.

26.  Avoid dehydration.  Our bodies are comprised of approximately 70-72% water.  Drinking plenty of water maintains the height and strength of the spinal discs of the entire spine, allowing them to work like the shock absorbers they are meant to be.

27.  Keep moving while sitting still.  Wiggle your toes, cross your legs every few minutes, press your feet firmly against the floor; anything to keep leg, pelvic and low back muscles contracting and active if you must sit for a long time in one position.

28.  Stretch before getting out of bed.  Many low back flare ups occur in the early morning while in the bathroom.  This occurs because during the night blood shifts from the muscles to internal organs where it is needed all night long.  Upon arising this lack of blood flow and reduced movement in the spine makes these areas vulnerable to strains and sprains.  Muscles are still contracted and tight from lack of use and the joints are relatively dry. Low back stretches that are done while still in bed will start to increase blood flow, as well as limber and lubricate the many joints of the back.

29.  Keep one hand on the top of the bathroom sink to support your body weight as you wash your face and brush your teeth.  It is awkward to do it this way, but so early in the day it is essential that you not bend over so far when your low back is not ready for the prolonged forward flexion.  Bracing your body and keeping some of this weight off the low back and on the arm is a good defensive strategy.


By taking responsibility for your back pain and working – often

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