The statistics say that 80% of us will experience lower back pain in our lifetime, which is a lot, but I’m sure it must be more!
Maybe I have a skewed perspective of reality because I’m an osteopath – everyone I see has (or had) a problem, the healthy ones don’t end up in the clinic! But either way, many of you readers will have had some experience with back pain, either acutely (which lasts days or weeks), or chronically (which lasts months or more).
Pain is a funny thing and it can play tricks with your mind. Today, I’m going to give you 5 tips to manage acute lower back pain so that when injury strikes, you are able to stay calm and accelerate your recovery.
Tip #1: Don’t Panic! Lower back pain doesn’t last forever
When acute pain strikes, your brain can feel like the scene in Airplane! where they’re told not to panic. Your thoughts go into overdrive wondering how long the pain will last, will it be forever, are you going to be able to enjoy your hobbies again, will it get worse? And on and on.
The thing to remember is that these thoughts are entirely normal and go hand in hand with acute lower back pain. When an injury occurs, your immune system goes through a cycle that lasts a few days and can be incredibly painful, but it doesn’t last forever.
Pay attention to your thoughts, let them go, and move on to taking positive steps like the ones below.
Tip #2: Keep moving! Movement is your lower back’s friend 🙂
Our intuitions tell us that pain is there to let our brain know about tissue damage happening in the body, but this is not strictly true. Pain is there to change your behaviour. So yes, when you are in pain, you will walk differently, you will be slower, you will make different choices with your body so the pain doesn’t strike, but this doesn’t mean the pain is a bad thing.
Pain will catch you out from time to time, often unexpectedly, but it’s not your body’s way of saying that more damage is happening, it’s just reminding you that you are not quite ready for that movement pattern yet. Your body will find a new way to complete the task instead. (I’ve seen some very creative ways of putting one’s shoes on in the clinic!)
Even if things hurt, it’s still very helpful to keep moving. All sorts of amazing things happen, even when you are going for a slow walk. The gentle ambulation massages and nourishes the muscles, joints and connective tissues and it sends helpful neurological information up to the brain.
You know what I always say; movement is medicine and motion is the lotion!
Tip #3: Stretch the hips and shoulders to help your lower back
When you are in pain, it is human nature to focus on the painful area. But you are a complex machine and all your moving parts talk to each other. You have networks of muscle criss-crossing your body. By stretching the hips and shoulders, you will help to release some of the tension that builds up due to the lower back pain.
Stretching other parts of your body is often easier than stretching where it hurts, but it will still have direct and positive results. Many of our hip muscles also attach to the lower back, and so do some of our shoulder muscles. Stretching these can ease the pain without stressing the lower back.
Head over to our YouTube channel for some ideas on where to get started.
Tip #4: Heat or ice? What’s the best treatment for your lower back?
This question confuses everyone, and to be honest, I never give a clear, single answer either! The research keeps flip-flopping, but the current thinking is that icing an injury can be helpful for the first day or so, then use heat. This is because inflammation isn’t the baddie we once thought, but it is an essential part of the healing response. Ice blocks the production of inflammation which may not be helping things, whereas heat improves blood flow which helps your body drain it away once it’s done its thing.
However, I have some patients who love icing their injuries. In those cases, I don’t stop them! There may be other reasons why it helps them, ranging from neurological pain-blocking effects to just the psychological placebo-type effect.
And vice versa, some people love the calming, soothing effect of heat. If that’s you, then go for it.
Either way, ice or heat, the point of them is to help you move more freely and more confidently. Movement is the true medicine.
Tip #5: Seek help! An osteopath can treat your lower back pain
The majority of low back pain episodes get better fairly quickly, but seeing someone like an osteopath does two main things; firstly, it will get you better faster so that you can get back to all the fun things in your life. Secondly, it will help you understand why the problem happened and how to build a plan so it doesn’t happen again. This may involve some lifestyle changes or some exercises to help improve your body’s function.
There are people out there to help you with anything in life, it just so happens this is the sort of thing an osteopath can help with!
Here is a video to get you started with a basic lower back exercise. It should feel ‘nice’, so don’t do it if it causes any pain.
Lower back pain is likely to affect most of us at some point in our life.
If you have any questions about it, you can see more about how our osteopaths can help you here, and please feel free to email [email protected], or call for a chat if you have any other questions 01245 522360.
We also have an online booking system to book an appointment direct.
See our back pain page for more information.