You bend down to pick up a pen, or lunge ‘for a puck, and are suddenly gripped with a severe pain in the back. What do you do? Most back pain responds to the following approaches to treatment:
1. Rest up
According to current clinical practice guidelines, you can rest for a day or two while the pain is acute, using pillows to keep you in a more comfortable position.
2. Do cold, then hot
Use a cold pack to reduce inflammation in the first few days, then switch to a heating pad or hot water bottle to help relax tense muscles and improve blood flow to the area.
3. Get expert advice
Talk to your doctor about a referral to a physiotherapist or chiropractor. Either can be helpful with suggestions about some back-friendly stretches and activities, and can physically evaluate and manipulate your back. Massage or acupuncture treatments may also help loosen tight muscles and soothe painful spasms.
4. Start moving
Resume your normal activities as best you can. After a couple of weeks, include gentle exercise such as stretching, walking, yoga or swimming. (Of course, avoid actions that really exacerbate your pain’now is not the time to move the piano!)
5. Work out with weights (But talk with your doctor first)
Experts stress that choosing activities you enjoy and will stick with is crucial, but some activities do appear to be more beneficial than others. In a small 2009 Canadian study published ‘in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, people with chronic low-back pain who did ‘a supervised 16-week program of resistance training with weights had greater reduction in pain and disability, and reported an improved quality of life, compared to those who did aerobic training for the same period.
The reason exercise helps is somewhat of ‘a mystery. It’s thought that increasing muscle strength to help support the back, keeping ligaments limber, losing excess weight and, perhaps most importantly, improving psychological well-being’reducing fear and fretting about pain and disability’are all key elements of why exercise works.
The best healer
"The effects of any of these treatments are modest, but they will probably help you get to a positive outcome a little more quickly," says Michele Crites Battié, a professor of physical therapy at the University of Alberta, who holds the Canada Research Chair in common spinal disorders. "Nature is still the best healer." Battié herself experienced a six-week bout of severe back pain shortly after giving birth. "Knowing that back pain is seldom long term really made a big difference, so it wasn’t a frightening experience for me. It was frustrating and inconvenient, but I knew ‘it had to just run its course."
This article was originally titled "Oh, my aching back!" in the October 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.