It is estimated that 80% of Americans will have some type of back pain at some point in their lives. Many of the remedies we apply with regard to this problem actually work against the natural healing abilities of the human body. This list will help reduce the severity of most cases of back pain and help speed the healing process. In addition, it’s always beneficial to consult a professional to rule out more severe health conditions.
1. Don’t use heat. The majority of people have been told to use heat when having back problems. This is the absolute worst thing you can do. Back pain usually has little to do with muscles and everything to do with nerves. Nerve irritation from misaligned spinal bones causes muscles to brace against the misalignment to protect you from further injuring yourself. This is a good thing. So muscle spasms should not be massaged away or forced to relax. Muscles only do what nerves tell them to do and they will relax only when the nerve irritation is removed.
Back pain is most often caused by nerve irritation resulting from injury to spinal joints and ligaments. The actual injury that caused the pressure may have happened years prior. Because of the joint dysfunction, the slightest incorrect move or strain can cause the disc and surrounding tissues to swell, just like when you sprain an ankle. The swelling causes pressure on spinal nerves, which causes that shooting pain you feel when you move in certain directions.
The solution in this case is ice. Ice will reduce the swelling which will, in turn, reduce the nerve pressure. Heat, on the other hand, will cause surrounding tissues to swell, which will ultimately increase the nerve pressure. Heat will certainly make some people feel better, but will cause more problems in the long run.
Tip: never, never, never use heat on the spine.
2. Walk. Walking is the very best exercise for your spine. It’s even better if you add a couple of inches to your stride, causing you to reach a bit with each step. Walking causes your ab and hip muscles to work together and support each other. It also can cause stuck spinal bones to move a little more freely which can reduce swelling and pain. The movement will also help keep your hip joints moving through a complete range of motion, which will lessen the chances of them getting fixed to one another.
Tip: one word of caution, though. If walking makes your pain worse, stop.
3. Be careful with pain relievers. While pain pills may the first thing you reach for when your back hurts, you might be causing yourself more problems. Besides the risk of side effects that all pain relievers pose, blocking the pain signal your nerves are sending could make the injury linger.
The pain signal acts as an alarm clock. It alerts you that something is wrong. It also lets you know your limits. If you bend forward and feel a sudden rush of horrible pain, that movement obviously isn’t good for you. Your body is telling you not to do that. Now if you cover that pain signal with drugs, you stop your body from being able to communicate that important message to you. This can make you able to do things your body doesn’t want you to do, making your problem worse.
Tip: if you’re going to take medications for pain, take them before you go to bed or when you aren’t going to do anything else that day.
4. No Crunches. People with back pain have been told for years to strengthen their abdominal muscles by doing crunches. While strong abs are important for spinal stability, crunches will eventually destroy your back.
The natural curves of the spine are its most important feature. They act as shock absorbers, much like the ones on your car, and keep your body from falling apart from the physical activity you engage in every day. When you do a crunch, you force your lower back into the floor which removes the lower back curve. Then the strain from the exercise is absorbed by the surrounding spinal joints, muscles, and ligaments, which they were not designed to do. Over time this will cause problems.
Also, when the curves of the spine are healthy, a naturally occurring locking mechanism exists that holds all spinal bones in their proper places. When you straighten the spine while doing a crunch, this locking mechanism is removed and the spine becomes vulnerable to greater injury.
Tip: find some other exercises to strengthen your abs. Bodyweight calisthenics do this wonderfully. Any exercise where you use your entire body in the movement will produce more powerful abs. Swimming, push-ups, and sprints are great, as well as abdominal isometrics. They won’t give you a six-pack, but they will certainly stabilize and strengthen your spine without causing harm.
5. Get adjusted. Misaligned spinal bones don’t just move back into place by themselves. It does happen, but rarely. Since some type of force probably caused the misalignment in the first place, a controlled force in the right direction at the right time is needed to correct it.
What you should also know is that spinal nerve irritation is not gone when your pain disappears. It lingers like a cavity until it’s fixed. The pain reappears when you physically do too much and irritate the problem, but it is always present once it’s created. That’s why people tend to hurt themselves in the same spot time after time. It’s not a new injury every time it happens, but rather an old injury resurfacing.
Tip: if you had a cavity, you’d get it fixed, so find a good chiropractor and make spinal adjustments part of your health regimen.