lmost everyone gets plagued with back pain at some point in their life. If you’re reading this, you’re either feeling it now or have at some point. On the rare chance that you haven’t ever had back pains or aches, there’s an 84% chance you will at some point in your life. Yeah, let that sink in. But, keep reading because we’ve got your back (pun intended)!
Whether it’s from sleeping funny, poor lifting technique, an accident, a slipped disk from an athletic injury, or your 9 to 5, the result is the same – ow! Thankfully, as many ways as there are to end up with back pain, there are just as many, if not more, remedies.
Keep reading to find out how you can ease your discomfort when the pain isn’t severe enough to visit your doctor but just painful enough to cause distress. You don’t want to handle a bad back blindly or you can risk making it worse before it gets better. With our tricks and tools, you’ll be able to return to tip-top shape in no time!
Tip #1: Don’t put yourself on bed rest
Back pain is not equivalent to bedridden, no matter how appealing curling up in bed sounds. Only use your bed for sleep. Research shows that: lying down too much can actually slow your recovery and worsen your pain, as your muscles get stiff and sore. This is due to increased pressure on parts of the spine evoked by lying down.
Instead, be as active as you can be. Obviously, we’re not encouraging you to run a marathon with a bad back. We’re not advocates of torture and further muscle strain. We are, however, advising that you get on your feet and go for a walk or a swim. It’s important for your recovery that you be moving around, or at the minimum, getting on your feet. A walk won’t put you in any worse of pain than you’re already in and counter to intuition, it will wash away the discomfort.
Tip #2: Keep Good Posture
We’re sure you’ve heard this one before. Good. Posture. Matters. Be aware of your back. Is it hunched? Is it swayed? What your back should be is relatively straight – with the natural curves of your upper and lower back. Keep all of your bones in alignment for good posture, like a stack of perfectly aligned blocks. This is a surefire way to avoid back aches. On the other hand, hunching over your laptop while sitting in your bed is a recipe for disaster. If you’re thinking “guilty as charged,” we’ve got some advice that might help you break this bad habit.
We know better than anyone that your life may require you to sit at a desk for long hours. After all, a sedentary lifestyle is an integral component of the American way of life. If this sounds like you, ensure that you have a comfortable desk and chair. Use a cushioned chair instead of a hard chair, which won’t support your back and will make it difficult to hold good posture. When sitting, your body should be in a certain position – feet: shoulder width, stomach: tucked in, arms: hung naturally, shoulders: rolled back. Consider this proper desk ergonomics, or cheat sheet for sitting etiquette.
When sitting at your desk, your feet should touch the floor comfortably. This is the office, not a roller coaster – no matter how much we would rather be at a park, and we would. Your knees should be in the same plane as your hips, not higher or lower. More importantly, your back should feel supported. If it doesn’t, you can get a lumbar pillow for some extra support or for a cheaper option, place a rolled up towel in the curvature of your back.
Try to keep frequently used items within reach so that you’re not twisting and leaning to reach items on or around your desk. If you constantly write, staple, sharpen, etc then keep those tools within arms reach. If after this, something happens to be far enough that you have to stretch yourself to grab it, you should probably be standing up and walking closer to get it.
If that’s not enough for you or you find yourself having a hard time adhering to these rules of thumb, you can try the app Posture Man Pat. The app uses your webcam to track where your face is relative to the screen to determine if you are slouching. If you are, the app will alert you. Think of it as your digital posture-reminding friend – reminding you of your goals and making sure you stick to them.
If you want to take this one step further, try the Lumo Lift Posture Coach. Similar to the Posture Man Pat, you use this wearable device to calibrate your perfect posture and it alerts you when you deviate from that.
Despite all of these modifications, you will still need to stand up intermittently and take walks. No amount of desk hacks can make up for hours upon hours of sitting. Even if you could sit all day without any consequences to your back, we would still recommend a break – you deserve one!
Tip #3: Watch How You’re Using Temperature
When we injure ourselves, we reach for a cold compress. When we experience back cramps, we reach for the heating pad. But, how do we know when to use heat and when to use cold? There is a big misconception behind using heat and cold so you’ve probably been doing it wrong, but it’s not too late to fix it.
The order is important. For a fresh injury – ice first, heat later.
- Apply the ice during the first 24-48 hours after you’ve tweaked your back.
- Wrap your chosen method of chill - ice pack, plastic baggie of ice, frozen peas - in a towel or cloth. This is to protect your skin from freeze burn and frostbite, which can occur within minutes of ice-on-skin contact – no thank you!
- Apply your ice pack to your back for no more than 10 minutes at a time
- Repeat as needed – and remember to give yourself breaks in between!
The heating process is similar in nature to the cooling. Refrain from applying the heat source directly onto the skin. In the case of a heating pad, you can use a nearby throw blanket to rest between your skin and the heating pad, instead of wrapping the pad as you would with an ice pack. What you don’t want to do - something which you might have done before - is sleep with your heating pad. Taking your heating pad into bed can be extremely comfy and cozy, and leaving it in all night can be tempting when you imagine the prolonged hours curing your back pain completely. But, what can happen, is that your blanket or cloth can slip as you toss and turn in your sleep and you can easily burn your skin. At the end of the day, the skin burn is not worth it especially when you can use the heating pad at all waking-hours. They’re extremely portable, versatile, and easily disguisable. So, if you’re not fortunate enough to work from home or take some time off of work, slide a cordless heating pad behind your desk chair with a cloth and soak in the therapeutic heat.
Tip #4: Take Up Yoga and Stretching
Work and life keeping you from hitting the gym? No problem! Follow this tutorial from home!
According to a study by Annals of Internal Medicine, yoga can have a short-term effect on alleviating back pain. The practice of yoga involves slow, intentional, controlled movements which help both strengthen and stretch the body. Yoga is analogous to doing a juice cleanse after weeks of eating junk food. It won’t erase the long hours sitting hunched over your computer, sitting in the car, slouched at the dinner table, but it can set in motion a healthier future.
When you take a yoga class, your instructor - assuming they are certified and qualified - will ask permission to adjust your body as you carry out different positions. In essence, they will be editing any bad posture habits that you are probably unaware of until you develop muscle memory and you no longer need assistance. Throughout the session, your yoga instructor will also take on a therapeutic voice, remind you to stay in the moment, to not let your mind wander, and to focus on deep breaths.
This is an opportunity to slow down and escape the demands of your day-to-day life. The result is less stress and tension, which manifests itself in your body, more specially the back. Mind and body are interrelated in that they both carry our stress and tension so by helping one you improve the other – and it just so happens that yoga accomplishes both. The big takeaway here is: yoga helps.
Much the same, stretches and exercises are good for the back. They help restore muscles by loosening up any tension, and they prevent future pain.
Some exercises and stretches with a reputation for helping a bad back are:
- Walking on flat ground
- Standing backbends
- Cobra pose
- Prone press-ups
- Trunk rotation
- Pelvic tilt
- Seat forward bend
Approach each stretch gently and carefully. If you feel that you have to force a stretch or are welcomed by excessive pain, stop that strain. You don’t want to cause a strain or further any pre-existing damage.
Tip #5: Switch Up Your Sleep Style
Ah, yes. The most notorious culprit. Waking up with a bad back is like a right of passage into adulthood. The indestructible youthful body of your past life is gone, say a hello to your adult body built to self-destruct even when you’re passed out. Because we are largely unaware of our movements in our sleep, you might not know what you’re doing in your sleep that is causing your pain.
But, here’s what we do know about sleeping to avoid back pain:
- Sleep on your side or back
- Don’t sleep on your stomach
- If you have to sleep on your stomach, place a pillow under your lower abdomen/pelvis
- Firm mattresses are better than soft ones
- Best position is fetal position – on your side with your knees curled up into chest
- For your lower back, sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs
If all else fails, we suppose you could videotape yourself sleeping to get a clearer picture of how you’re unconsciously injuring yourself. It could be that you're falling asleep in back-approved positions but distorting your body throughout the night. The wrong position can put pressure on your spine and cause it to flatten out of its natural shape. If this is the case, you may want to try modifying your sleeping environment so that such harmful positions aren’t possible.
Migraines and cramps can be debilitating, but that doesn’t mean your achy back has to be. We would never wish a bad back on anyone, but experiencing a hurt back may be the perfect unhappy little accident to set in motion healthier habits and a healthier lifestyle.
However, if your back pain isn’t an unwelcome visitor but more of a permanent annoyance, it may be time to visit your doctor.
You should visit your doctor if:
- Pain lasts longer than 6 weeks
- Pain gets worse, even after at-home remedies
- Pain that wakes you up in the night
- Co-occurring stomach pain
- Pain accompanied by weakness, tingling, or numbness
Moral of the story: if your back pain isn’t going away within a couple of weeks, go. At that point, the problem is out of our hands and can be passed on to a medical professional who is far more qualified. Hopefully, it does not get to that point and our tips have you squared away in no time! You’ve got this!