Help Your Back Work for You
Your back is important to almost every move you make, but you probably won't realize
that until you hurt it. Then you may wish you could return to the days when you took
your back for granted and didn't have any pain. Even though you can't turn back time,
you can recover from most back injuries. You can also learn how to protect your back
so you'll keep moving and stay comfortable in the future.
For people younger than 45, back pain is the most common cause of disability. A variety
of factors can bring on this pain, says the National Institute of Neurological Disorders
and Stroke (NINDS). Poor muscle tone and being overweight strain your back. Improper
twisting or lifting can send your back into spasms. Aging can make your back more
at risk for injury. And sometimes, back pain happens for no known obvious reason.
Simple home remedies can relieve most back pain. It will take some patience, but if
you care for your back correctly, you should feel better within 6 weeks after the
Rest in bed as little as possible—a few days at most, says the NINDS. Too much bed
rest weakens your muscles and could slow your recovery. Get up and move around as
soon as you can.
For the first 2 days, use ice or cold compresses. It may help to ease your back pain.
Wrap a towel around a bag of ice and place it against the painful area for up to 20
minutes. You can also use a bag of frozen vegetables. This will change to fit the
shape of your body. If you still have pain after 2 days, soothe your muscles with
heat. Try a heating pad on its lowest setting, take a warm shower, or soak in a warm
Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medicines may also help. Either
of these can reduce muscle and joint inflammation and relieve pain. Talk with your
healthcare provider about the right medicine for you.
When to call your healthcare provider
Your back pain may require medical attention. Call your healthcare provider if any
of these statements apply:
Your back pain started after you fell or were struck.
Your leg feels weak or numb.
You have bladder or bowel problems.
Your pain doesn't go away after a few weeks of home care.
Your healthcare provider will probably ask you when the pain started. It will help
if you can tell your healthcare provider what makes the pain worse and what makes
it better, like a specific activity or treatment.
Make it strong
Even if you've had back trouble, you can have a strong back. If you take care of your
back, it's more likely to carry you through the day with few complaints. Here are
some guidelines for strengthening this important part of your body:
Maintain good posture.
Sit in a chair that supports your lower back. If you don't have a supportive chair, place a small pillow or rolled-up towel against
the curve in your lower back.
Exercise. Strong back muscles can reduce your risk for injury. Strong arms, legs, and belly
muscles can reduce the work your back has to do. Aerobic exercise, like walking or
biking, increases the flow of blood and oxygen to your back muscles. Choose your exercises
carefully. For example, running may not be good for a weak back. Swimming and water
aerobics support your back while you exercise. Walking is also a good choice. If you've
had a serious back injury, you should talk with your healthcare provider before you
start exercising regularly.
Maintain a healthy weight. This will lessen the strain on your back. Your healthcare provider can tell you if
you need to lose weight.
Learn how to lift properly. When you bend to pick something up—even a child—bend at your knees and keep your back
straight. You may have to squat or kneel. This puts the stress on your legs. They
are stronger than your back. When you pick up an object and carry it, hold it close
to your body. The farther it is from the middle of your body, the more it strains
Pay attention to pain or twinges. If you feel back pain during an activity, stop and rest. Your body may be trying to
prevent you from harming your back.