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Tips for Relieving Back Pain

Back pain is the most common medical problem in the U.S, affecting eight out of ten people at some point during their lifetime. And while the causes and severity of back pain vary greatly from individual to individual, there are some simple techniques that can help relieve the pain for most sufferers.

The most common cause of back pain is muscle spasm, brought on by an awkward movement like bending/twisting, repetitive bending/twisting or from lifting a heavy object incorrectly. These spasms are generally not severe and tend to get better with time and rest.

Chronic back pain occurs when a person's pain lasts longer than three months. This kind of pain is usually the result of degeneration of the disks and joints that make up the spine. When this kind of damage occurs, new bone growth may cause "spurs" which put pressure on the nerves of the spinal canal, or vertebrae may start to slide out of place, resulting in narrowing of the spinal canal. Such degeneration can cause severe back pain, as well as leg pain, numbness, and weakness. At this point, your doctor could recommend surgery to correct the damage.

The good news is, surgery is rarely needed to treat most forms of back pain. Here are some easy, at-home remedies that will likely reduce or relieve your pain:

  1. Apply ice. If you've injured the muscles of your back due to a strain, apply ice immediately to reduce swelling and muscle spasm. Generally, ice should be applied for the first three to fivedays instead of heat. Fifteen minutes at a time is sufficient. Apply the ice three to fourtimes per day.
  2. Apply heat. After three to five days of applying ice, use a heating pad or take a hot bath to help relax muscles and increase blood flow to the injured area. Avoid injury by never sleeping with a heating pad – burns are often the result.
  3. Get out of bed. A short period of bed rest may be needed to relax injured muscles or bulging disks, but more than two days will actually do you more harm than good. Lying down on the floor with your legs on the couch is a good position to relax your back muscles. Try to lie in this position for 15 minutes two to three times per day. Continue your daily routine as much as your injury allows.
  4. Walk. The best exercise after your back spasms have resolved is walking. Aim for 30 minutes a day and pay particular attention to your posture as you walk. Keep your head up, eyes forward, and spine straight. Leaning forward or backward while walking can result in added pain, especially for lower back injuries.
  5. Stretch. Stretching your back muscles for 15 minutes per day can greatly reduce pain and prevent further injuries. Common stretches include lying on your back and pulling your knees to your chest, lying on your back with your hips and knees flexed and rotating your knees from side to side, and sitting on a chair and reaching down between your knees to touch the floor.
  6. Relax. It's well known that anxiety and stress can lead to back pain. At the same time, it's also well documented that chronic back pain can lead to anxiety, stress, and even depression. Whatever the case, there are a variety of relaxation techniques that can be used to help alleviate the stress and anxiety associated with chronic back pain. Consider adding daily meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, Tai-Chi, music therapy, aroma therapy, or therapeutic massage as part of your recovery plan.
  7. Sleep well. Pay attention to your posture when falling asleep at night. The best sleeping position for back pain sufferers is either flat on your back or on your side. In either case, add a pillow to keep the spine in proper alignment and prevent further muscle strain. When sleeping on your back, the pillow should be placed under the knees to keep the lower back flat on the mattress. When sleeping on your side, the pillow should be placed between the knees to prevent the upper leg from falling forward and causing rotation of the spine. If your mattress is more than ten years old, consider a new one which provides firm support.