Many of the things we buy are items that make our lives easier or better – so why should it be different for our backs? A huge array of products keep the spine in mind and can aid back pain relief, according to Kaliq Chang, MD, interventional pain management specialist, double board-certified in interventional pain management and anesthesiology with Atlantic Spine Center.
Since most Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health, most of us will have days, weeks or longer when we’d love to turn to a product to ease that pain. Fortunately, between brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers, it’s not hard to find many options that fit the bill, Dr. Chang says. “What’s even better is that some of these items, which are readily available, can work to prevent back pain from flaring as well as stem discomfort once it flares,” explains Dr. Chang. “Products that keep the spine in mind can often help strengthen muscles surrounding the spine or shift our posture to protect our spines. It’s a win-win no matter how you view it.”
What's on the Spine Products List
What products make the cut when it comes to back pain relief? In no particular order, Dr. Chang recommends these items and explains how they work:
Yoga Rolls: Also known as foam rollers, these dense roller-shaped products can help release painful, tight muscle knots in the back as well as cut down on inflammation surrounding the spine. Using it is easy: Just place the roller under your shoulder blades as you lie on your back on a hard surface, bending your knees and placing your hands behind your head. Then lift your hips and roll the foam toward your shoulders, holding it in place when you feel a tender spot. Continue by rolling the foam down to the mid- and lower back, pausing in place when other tender spots are found. Repeat 4 or 5 times.
Bosu Balls: These inflatable balls can range in size and are generally made of vinyl or plastic (some are also solid foam rubber). Also called Swiss balls or physio balls, this product helps with back pain by strengthening users’ core body muscles in the back and abdomen that stabilize the spine, Dr. Chang says. It’s also believed that the type of movement involved with using bosu balls, which includes tiny, constant balance adjustments, can help cut pain by stimulating the body to produce more endorphins – chemicals that naturally inhibit pain. This versatile ball can be sat on or used under various body parts during exercise (legs, torso, etc. ).
Back Belts: Like the other products, back belts come by several names, including back supports or even abdominal belts. Most commonly, they’re a lightweight, elastic belt that’s worn around the lower back and may sometimes be held in place with suspenders. The idea is to support the lower spine – as well as the structures surrounding it – which can reduce jolts and other forces during exertion, Dr. Chang says. The belt can also serve as a subtle reminder to the wearer to lift items properly and bend from the knees, not the back.
Supportive Sneakers: If you’re wondering how sneakers (or really, any footwear) can affect back pain, you may not be aware that when you walk, a force up to 5 times your body weight is placed on each foot. So unsupportive shoes, which don’t absorb or redistribute that shock properly, can transmit the force to the back – causing pain. Because sneakers are available in highly padded styles, they stand the best chance of being the best footwear from a back pain management standpoint, Dr. Chang says. In addition to plenty of cushioning in the sole, make sure your shoes aren’t too tight. You can also add an orthotic insole (available in drugstores) to less-padded shoes to beef them up.
Backpacks (with Spine Support): Keep in mind that your backpack isn’t just there to carry around books, computers or other gear – and it’s especially not there just to look good. Lugging around many pounds of items can wreak havoc on the spine if a backpack is carried on just one shoulder, for instance, or the weight inside isn’t distributed in a back-friendly way. To ward off backpack-related back pain, look for spine support features such as wide, padded straps; hip and chest belts, which can take the strain off neck and shoulder muscles; multiple compartments to evenly distribute weight; or a backpack on wheels if you travel long distances or carry heavy loads.
Standing Desks: These adjustable desks – which can go from low to high depending on the user’s height and momentary whims – have become all the rage, especially since recent research cast excessive sitting as “the new smoking.” But standing desks can also be a boon to those with back pain. According to a 2018 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, those who used a sit-stand desk – as well as participated in counseling to improve sedentary behavior – experienced a 50% reduction in low back pain compared to participants with neither intervention. Key to the spine benefits of a standing desk is adjusting it to a height that aligns the head, neck and spine, with your wrists able to rest flat on the desk with elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Ergonomic Chairs: Designed to help users sit comfortably for long periods while working, ergonomic chairs are typically pricier than regular office chairs, but they’re far kinder to the back, Dr. Chang says. These chairs are more adjustable than standard desk chairs, allowing you to customize the fit to both your body and your comfort level. Ergonomic chairs ease existing back pain and prevent flare-ups by supporting proper posture, aligning the hips and pelvis, preventing slouching and forward head posture, and improving comfort.