The Best Ways To Relieve Back Pain

techniques that really work!

Xandra says: As a chiropractor, I’ve been treating back pain in my practice for over 10 years. A bad back is something that most of us will experience at least once in our life. The majority of back pain comes not from accident or injury, but is as a result of our lifestyles. We simply put too much stress and strain on our joints, thanks to our technology-filled habits. 

From my experience of seeing thousands of patients who are suffering from back pain, the tips below are the ones that I see work for the majority of my patients. While some may sound unorthodox and be contrary to the advice you may have heard elsewhere, these steps come from my years of experience in treating patients with a wide range of back pain issues. 

recline your chair

If you are an office or homeworker, you are probably familiar with the proscribed wisdom of sitting upright, with your feet flat on the floor and your spine tall and straight. However, our spines have three natural curves (in our neck, our upper back and our lower back). Sitting at a 90° angle places increased load through these curves, which can cause back pain. Putting the load generated from supporting our body weight through our spine this way increases pressure and wear on the lower back discs.1

Research from 20062 tells us that reclining back to 135 degrees (or as much as you can whilst working) reduces the load on your spine and relieves pain. Your workstation set-up is therefore extremely important in relieving back pain, especially as many of us spend hours working and sitting in the same position at a desk.

And if you spend hours on the sofa in front of your TV, if your sofa has a recliner function, use it! In the same way that sitting at a desk can trigger back pain, sitting in front of the TV for hours in an upright position can do just as much damage.

straighten your legs

Sitting with your knees at 90 degrees, or, worse still, putting your feet under your chair,  is bad for your knee joints and means you are inadvertently contracting and working your hamstrings. If you sit like this for hours each day, your hamstrings will become tight and can start to pull on your lower back.

Many times I’ve heard or read that the answer to back pain is simply to stretch your hamstrings out. However, if you sit for hours a day with bent knees, you would have to stretch multiple times a day to counteract this. (Incidentally, no study has ever found that stretching your hamstrings helps to relieve back pain.)

The solution is to straighten your legs out, and place them on a step under your desk. This helps you to keep your chair reclined back, and reduces strain on your knees and lower back.

ice therapy

This is the most important piece of advice I give to any patient who visits my clinic. Although research on using ice in treatments is limited, as a chiropractor, it has some of the best outcomes on pain for the majority of my patients. This is why so many top athletes use ice baths and cryotherapy chambers3 to help to keep their muscles at their best. 

Ice is a natural anti-inflammatory that reduces swelling. As a lot of back pain is a result of swelling, either around the joints or in the discs, putting ice on the spine naturally gives relief. 

While you may not be able to create your own ice bath or cryotherapy chamber at home, a well-wrapped ice pack, used for 15-20 minutes, placed in the centre of the spine (not the muscles around it) can be a great home alternative.

As an aside, using heat to treat back pain is not recommended. This is because heat is a natural inflammatory. I am yet to see a patient who responds better to heat than ice.

work on your foundations

Core muscles are your foundation, in the same way that the strength of a building comes from its foundations. Working to stretch and move and strengthen the area around your pelvis, low back and lower abdomen helps to keep the whole of your spine in good posture and relieves back pain. A basic, yet clinically effective core strength exercise for the whole spine takes less than a minute per day.

Try doing the bird dog exercise that we feature in the our realign programme. It’s easy to do, works the whole spine and can also help to improve your balance.4 I always recommend that my patients do this exercise in the middle of their bed, rather than on a flat, solid surface, as it makes the exercise unstable and helps to build greater core strength. 

check your diet

A lot of back pain is a result of inflammation or swelling of the joints and discs. To help your body to reduce this swelling, eat foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory. Most vegetables, especially ‘rainbow vegetables’, have an anti-inflammatory effect.5 

Spices such as turmeric are also great for treating inflammation in the body, and there is a lot of research that demonstrates it has a beneficial effect on joint function and can help with pain relief.6

movement

The joints in your body are like the interconnected parts of a machine. If they move, they can harness the oil they need to stay lubricated. If, however, as a result of a sedentary lifestyle your joints fail to be moved regularly, they can get stiff, start to wear out and be damaged by this inactivity. 

Movement is key to keeping your joints healthier and more flexible. Making simple changes to your daily routine – even something simple, like getting up regularly to get a glass of water or herbal tea can help to keep you flexible. 

Choosing to take the stairs, instead of the lift at work, keeps you mobile too. Going to see a colleague in your office, rather than sending them an email is another simple way to get your joints moving and to keep you more active. Simple lifestyle changes like these can help you to become more active, have greater flexibility and experience less pain.

Research suggests that people who are active every 30 minutes have better overall health and are shown to have a 55% lower risk of death,7 compared to people who sit for more than 30 minutes at a time.

Just a quick stand and stretch can make all the difference. If you do sit for hours at a time, try and move a bit more when you do get up, to help loosen things up.

While there are plenty of good reasons to visit your chiropractor, taking these simple steps can help to reduce the number of visits you need to see them, because you are experiencing back pain. Self-care is always the best care, and just a few alterations to your daily routine can help to reduce the number of times you find your back is stiff, sore or that your joints have seized up. 

references:

  1. Hirasawa, Yoichiro MD*†; Bashir, Waseem A. FRCR†; Smith, Francis W. MD†; Magnusson, Marianne L. DrMedSc†; Pope, Malcolm H. PhD, DSc, DrMedSc†; Takahashi, Keisuke MD* Postural Changes of the Dural Sac in the Lumbar Spines of Asymptomatic Individuals Using Positional Stand-Up Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Spine: February 15, 2007 – Volume 32 -Issue 4 – p E136-E140 doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000255202.94153.ca
  2. RSNA press release: Aching Back? Sitting Up Straight Could Be the Culprit
  3. Lombardi G, Ziemann E, Banfi G. Whole-Body Cryotherapy in Athletes: From Therapy to Stimulation. An Updated Review of the Literature Front Physiol. 2017;8:258. Published 2017 May 2. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00258
  4. Behm DG, Leonard AM, Young WB, Bonsey WA, MacKinnon SN.Trunk muscle electromyographic activity with unstable and unilateral exercises  J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Feb;19(1):193-201. doi: 10.1519/1533-4287(2005)19<193:TMEAWU>2.0.CO;2. PMID: 15705034
  5. Watzl B. Anti-inflammatory effects of plant-based foods and of their constituents. — NCBI Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2008 Dec;78(6):293-8. doi: 10.1024/0300-9831.78.6.293. PMID: 19685439.
  6. Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health Foods. 2017 Oct 22;6(10):92. doi: 10.3390/foods6100092. PMID: 29065496; PMCID: PMC5664031.
  7. Diaz KM, Howard VJ, Hutto B, Colabianchi N, Vena JE, Blair SN, Hooker SP. Patterns of Sedentary Behavior in US Middle-Age and Older Adults: The REGARDS Study. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Mar;48(3):430-8. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000792. PMID: 26460633; PMCID: PMC4760895.

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