Back pain is one of those topics we can all relate to. Case in point? The fact that you’re here reading this.
Right now, you are probably experiencing some kind of back pain and are looking for natural ways to relieve yourself of the problem. Trust me, I’ve had my share of pain all over my back – that just comes with the territory of racing, and occasionally crashing, motorcycles all my life.
And after going with the usual routine of seeing doctors, taking prescriptions, or getting surgeries, I discovered there was a lot I could do on my own to provide relief.
Even if you’re not an extreme athlete, we all experience things in our day-to-day lives that can cause pain. You’re likely aware that lifting heavy objects incorrectly – with your back instead of your legs, for example, can cause back pain.
But there are other causes too, like:
However, the cause, you’ll typically see other sources suggest the first line of treatment involve medications. But since you’re here, you know my mission is to avoid going with the “easy” and often misleading pharmaceutical option and empowering you to heal yourself naturally.
No, it’s not as simple as popping a pill, but the pill will only numb the symptoms and invite the pain to return in greater intensity. These remedies are still super easy, highly effective, and very empowering.
For many, following these simple treatments will get you feeling better within a month, if not much faster. Even if you suffer from chronic back pain, these treatments will go a long way towards getting long-term relief naturally. However, you know your body best, and if medical, pharmaceutical or surgical interventions are needed, I typically view those as last resorts. As always, consult with your doctor if this is the case.
For the rest of us, here are my tips:
The first thing I usually recommend when you experience the onset of pain, no matter where it is, is to treat the problem area with ice and heat. Pain is a signal (and a really good one!) that something is wrong with your body. Generally, this means your muscles will start to get inflamed.
Start with applying ice or cold packs for the first 48 hours to help bring the inflammation down. Afterward, you can introduce heat packs to the area. Once the inflammation has calmed down, heat will help relax the muscles and ease the pain.
An important note: when using ice or heat, only keep it in contact with your skin for about 20 minutes to avoid hurting your skin. If you’d like to avoid direct contact with the ice, for example, wrap your ice pack or cold pack in a thin towel or pillowcase before applying.
The same thing works for a heating pad. If you don’t have a heating pad, a hot water bottle (or even rice in a sock) can do the trick. This works well on your entire back, but especially the lower back. Just lay down on the bottle! Side note, the Backmate hot/cold therapy wheels are excellent for icing and heating.
For the longest time, the common advice whenever you hurt yourself was to stop all activity and confine yourself to bed rest. On the surface, this makes sense; activity caused pain, so no activity will make it better, right? Wrong. The more we learn about the body, the more we understand this is just not true. Our bodies were meant to move. Staying sedentary actually causes more harm than good.
The difference here is to work in progressions. Don’t enter an Ironman competition when you have severe back pain. Ease your way back into your daily activities if you’re able, and if you start to feel pain, scale back.
On the other hand, if your regular daily routine doesn’t cause any trouble, slowly add back to low-impact exercise. Walking is good, but not running. You can also try swimming or cycling. But again, keep it mellow at first.
What’s the point? Exercise – even low-impact, basic exercises – helps keep muscles loose and releases endorphins, which is the body’s natural pain reliever and stress reducer.
Once basic aerobic exercises start getting easier, then you can ramp it up some more. You can include weight training, which is hugely important. Strong back muscles help support the spine and help keep your posture in check (more on that later).
Specifically, your back extensor muscles help with posture and keeping your spine aligned. Targeting your abs, pelvis, and hips will all go a long way towards keeping your back strong, supported, and pain-free.
If this all sounds intimidating to you, I understand. In that case, it might be best to seek the help of a physical therapist or personal trainer. These professionals will help guide you through many of the exercises above and give you tips and advice on things you can do at home.
Equally as important as exercising and strengthening your back is giving it a good stretch – not just after a workout but also throughout the day. This is great advice no matter what you do, but you’ll start to build up muscle tension from the seated position, especially if you sit at a desk all day. This also deactivates the glutes, which leads to low back pain.
And tension, as you probably know by now, doesn’t do us any good (Link to Headache Blog). To combat it, you’ll want to get up regularly and stretch in the opposite direction your office chair puts you in. There are several great stretches for the back, including:
Performing some of these stretches regularly for about 30 seconds will help keep your muscles loose.
Now more than ever, with more and more people working from home offices, it’s important to keep in mind the ergonomic setup of your workspace. We tend to slouch, but practicing proper posture will help keep that from happening.
It all starts with your office chair. Ergonomic office chairs are becoming more commonplace, which angle the backrest to help keep the spine’s natural alignment in place. They also angle the adjustable armrests so your arms lay in a comfortable position.
But even if you don’t have a special chair, there are things you can do with the chair you have. Start by sitting at a height that allows your feet to lay flat on the floor, hips aligned on the same plane as your knees. If your backrest is flat or inadequately supports your lower back, place a pillow or rolled towel between your lower back and the chair to help maintain the spine’s curvature.
Don’t forget about your keyboard and mouse, too. Keep them close so your arms aren’t extending to reach them. The extension can cause the back to be overexerted.
Lastly, instead of looking down at your monitor, raise it so it’s at eye level. You don’t need any expensive platforms to do this – just put the monitor on top of books until it’s at a right height.
Who doesn’t love sleeping? Sleeping is the body’s natural restorer, but studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can reduce the body’s pain tolerance through the phenomenon of central sensitization.
We’ve all heard that adults should aim at getting at least seven hours of sleep (but not more than nine), but having your back aligned is important, too. Sleeping on your back is best, but try to avoid stomach sleeping because it strains the neck. Side sleepers should place a comfortable yet sturdy pillow between their knees to maintain the alignment.
No, really. As we learn more about chronic back pain, we’re learning that some traditional medicine has been ineffective, at best. Take the bed rest recommendation above that was so popular for the past two or three decades. We now know lying in bed all day is actually worse for back pain and you should be staying active, if to a lesser degree.
There’s now a growing body of research that suggests chronic back pain is linked to the mind – as in, you think you’re in pain because that pain is what’s taking your mind off other stressors in your life.
And in this absolutely crazy year that is 2020, I think we’re all feeling a little stressed, right? The clinical term for this increase in responsiveness to pain is central sensitization; following the biopsychosocial model that pain comes from a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors."
Here’s the thing about biopsychosocial pain – you have the power to control it. If it’s your mind using pain as a crutch, then your mind can also work the opposite way. Tell yourself that your back is strong, you are not broken, and that the body can heal itself. Reinforce those thoughts with the other tips I’m sharing with you here and the results should speak for themselves.
In case you don’t know by now, I’m a firm believer in the healing powers of massage and myofascial release to help ease pain throughout the body, including the back. In these trying times, as we experience a year unlike anything we’ve seen in the past century, stress and tension probably run high for a lot of us. I know it has for me. And while I can’t change the world or end the pandemic, I can attest to massage’s restorative healing powers.
The act of massaging tight, overworked, painful muscles loosens them up, releases endorphins, and just feels great! But as you’ve probably noticed, it’s hard to massage the back by yourself. This is where the Backmate is so handy and useful.
By simply locking it into place on your doorframe at the desired height, you can target specific areas throughout your back.
Better still, since you’re standing upright against the Backmate instead of straining to reach certain problem areas (if you can reach them at all), your muscles remain as relaxed as possible while the Backmate rolls you through to pain relief.
Back pain, including chronic or severe back pain, is a part of life. Back pain has been on an exponential rise for the past several decades. We live in a very stressful time right now, which further exacerbates the pain. However, the tips above do help ease the pain and often net quick and lasting results.
Instead of thinking of ourselves as victims of the coronavirus situation, we can empower ourselves to remain as healthy as possible during this time – and that includes back health and wellness. It’s the goal of myself and the entire Backmate team to help you – and empower you – in that journey.