With low back pain affecting most Americans at some point in their lives, many people wonder what their options are for treating the occasional back pain flare-up safely and effectively at home. Fortunately, a wide variety of home-based treatments can ease the ache when your back acts up, says Dr. Kaliq Chang, pain management specialist at Atlantic Spine Center.
"Whether your back pain is caused by lifting something heavy, from bending the wrong way or because of an ongoing issue like osteoarthritis, most back pain is mild and occasional," Dr. Chang explains. "For routine back pain, certain tried-and-true approaches can be done at home when you're able, offering relief at a time that's convenient for you."
What remedies for back pain are accessible at home? Dr. Chang recommends trying these options:
Home Treatments for Back Pain
- Pain relievers: Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) target not only back pain itself, but inflammation often fueling the hurt. Check with your doctor of pharmacist about any potential drug interactions between these medications and others you may be taking.
- Exercise: It may seem counter-intuitive, but moving your body (within reasonable limits) actually helps ease back pain, Dr. Chang says. "You may not feel like moving if your back aches, but your body will thank you for making the effort," he says. "Spines are meant to move." Even everyday movement such as taking a walk or making the bed helps ease sore back muscles, and a light workout is certainly fine as long as you don't overdo, he says.
- Stretching: Every 20 minutes or so, get up and bend lightly in various directions, carefully stretching out back muscles. "This gentle stretching helps strains and sprains to recover gradually, keeping muscles limber," Dr. Chang says. "Some people find back pain relief by maintaining a regular stretching routine."
- Apply cold: Cold compresses or ice are optimal in the first 24 to 48 hours after a minor injury that results in back pain, Dr. Chang says. "The cold will help dampen inflammation from developing as well as feel good," he says. Apply cold packs in 20-minute segments.
- Apply heat: Warmth (hot water bottle, heating pad) not only feels good on a sore back, but helps relax muscles. Heat therapy should only be used on older injuries, not right after a fresh injury, Dr. Chang notes. Again, apply in 20-minute periods.
- Physical therapy: While not strictly a home-based treatment, physical therapy often ends up continuing at home. With a physical therapist's advice and guidance, back pain patients become aware of the best exercises to do at home to improve back pain and keep it away, Dr. Chang says.
If your back pain doesn't subside after a week or so of home treatments,or becomes more severe, hurting even when you're at rest, it's time to call a doctor, Dr. Chang advises. "Immediate medical attention is necessary if you have weakness or numbness in your legs or 'saddle area' of your crotch, or if you have trouble standing or walking," he adds. "Forget home-based treatments at that point and seek expert opinion."
Prevention Can be the Key Avoiding Back Pain too
Since prevention is always the best treatment, avoiding back pain can start at home as well, Dr. Chang notes. These measures can stop back pain from developing in the first place:
- Watch your weight: Being overweight puts excess strain on the spine and back muscles.
- Quit smoking: Smoking increases the odds of problems in the spine and increases the incidence of low back pain.
- Wear low heels: Heels higher than 1 inch can create unstable posture, increasing pressure on the lower spine.
- Pay attention to posture: any of us slump without noticing, but this can make it harder for your back to support your weight, Dr. Chang says. Keep your back erect when walking or sitting, and don't bend from the waist while lifting heavy objects.
- Ergonomics count: Design your desk and workspace to avoid needing to hunch forward while using your computer or reach for your mouse, Dr. Chang advises. "Use a desk chair that's supportive of the lower back and allows you to keep your feet planted on the floor," he adds.
- Exercise your core Our core muscles support the lower back and abdomen, Dr. Chang says, and keeping them strong helps combat lower back pain. "Proper posture and spine alignment is enabled by a strong core," he says. "Exercises such as those in Pilates classes help firm and tone these key muscles."
Best Home Remedies for Back Pain Relief
Treating back pain in the comfort of your home can be quite effective since you usually have a good idea of what caused it, and it more than likely happened recently. The following are general recommendations to relieve back pain. Following will be a list of back pain prevention suggestions that can quickly become part of your everyday routine.
Cease regular activity for 2 or 3 days
This should reduce inflammation and swelling. It does not mean bed rest. If your pain is severe, or there is any sudden weakness, tingling, numbness, or shooting nerve pain, please see a medical professional.
Apply cold compresses
For the first 2 or 3 days, then use heat. A cold compress can reduce inflammation and ease the pain, while heat can relax tense muscles and increase blood flow to the injury promoting healing and relief.
Over-the-counter pain relievers
Such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may relieve back pain. Please be aware that overuse can have serious side effects.
Loss of sleep
It can cause irritability, which can bring on tension that can lead to muscle tightness, potentially resulting in poor posture, and more pain, so the cycle continues. Back pain prevention may require a change in bedtime habits. Instead of watching tv or a computer screen that awakens the brain, try soaking in a hot bath to calm the nerves at the end of the day.
If you are a side sleeper
Are you looking for natural remedies for back pain and inflammation? Try putting a pillow between your knees and pulling them up to somewhat mimic a fetal position. If you are a back sleeper, place a rolled towel beneath your knees to help relieve the pressure on your back.
Stretching before you leave the bed.
Home remedies for back pain can start before you get out of bed and can be a great way to start the day. Slowly extend your arms over your head and hold them for several seconds, then gently bring them back to your sides. Then move one leg at a time, laying on your back, and get your knee toward your chest only if this does not cause discomfort. Gently hug your knee toward your chest, leave it there for a few seconds, then slowly slide your foot to allow your leg to straighten. Repeat on your other leg. Stretching should always feel nice, never painful.
Use your arms to help you get in a seated position so your feet can get on the floor. Carefully and slowly have equal pressure on both feet, look up and gradually stand. Every time you get up or sit down, have equal pressure on both feet, avoid twisting, and tilt your head to look up. Hopefully, this helped, but you probably still need to get out of bed for lower back treatment at home.
“An ounce of prevention…”
When back pain is an issue, the most mundane tasks can be put in a new light. One may want to switch to shaving in the shower or switching to electric. Shaving your face while leaning over the sink can be genuinely uncomfortable.
We have all heard “lift with your legs.” What was left out of the phrase is that the object being lifted should be kept close to the body, and your head must remain up. Do not drop your chin.
Getting in or out of the car can be a much better experience if, while entering,
- Open the door all the way
- Put your back to the seat
- Have your weight equally distributed on both feet, and sit
- Then bring your feet in the car
The same is the reverse for getting out.
- Put both feet on the ground with equal weight
- Look up and stand.
If you are going on a long drive, get out every hour and walk around. Do not have your wallet in your back pocket. Make sure you have proper lower back support with a specialty pillow or a rolled-up towel. When you do get to your destination, do not do any lifting or anything that could compromise your back until you have your “land legs” again.
Yoga can be wonderful.
When done correctly, it can be an excellent mind-body connection and fantastic for back pain prevention. It is not about contorting yourself into strange positions as much as it prepares your body and mind for the meditation following the exercise. Being overweight does contribute to back problems. Enough said.
Posture is so important.
Laptops, smartphones, and computers can cause problems with your back and neck. At your desk, the top of the monitor should be a couple of inches above your eye level. Every 10 minutes, take some time to stand and stretch, and every 20 minutes, walk away for a little while to get things moving and circulating again. This procedure helps prevent the pain and stiffness of being mobile after staying still for too long. If you regularly carry a bag, switch hands each time you pick it up. If you picked it up with your right hand, put the shoulder strap over your left side and keep the load on your right side.
High heels can be the root of back pain.
Going with flat shoes can offer relief. Properly fitting shoes are a step in the right direction. If they are too tight or too loose, they can cause a change in the way you walk. Properly administered orthotics can turn a good pair of shoes into a great pair of shoes, and your spine can benefit from the results.
If you must stand in one place for a while, maybe as part of your job, it would be helpful to have a low stool or anything to rest one foot on to help relax one leg at a time.