The most common cause of spinal pain is sprain/strain of soft tissues. Any severe pain generally eases in a few hours or day at the most. Mild to moderate discomfort could linger for up to 8-10 weeks. Bad postures like the following can contribute to pain:
- Prolonged sitting in a poor position
- Working in awkward or bent positions
- Prolonged standing in a poor position
- Lifting with a rounded back
If you suffer back pain, staying active is good. The best thing to do is to get moving as soon as possible. You may not be able to do as much as you did before the pain, but that is to be expected in the short term.
Home remedies that help
A common question is “ice or heat – which should I use?” The answer is that either can be effective and will not cause harm if used correctly. Generally, ice is more helpful within the first 1-2 days of pain and heat will help more thereafter. There are exceptions, though, and it is worth experimenting a bit.
Ice can cool the soft tissues and calm nerve signals. Here’s how:
- Use for only 20 minutes at a time
- Do not place directly on the skin (wrap in thin moist towel, use a sports cold pack or bag of frozen vegetables)
Heat warms the soft tissue and helps blood flow. It is proven to reduce pain in clinical studies. Here’s how:
- Heating pad for up to 20 minutes (do not fall asleep with this on)
- Thermacare type wrap (provides 8 hours of heat)
- Support yourself in good sitting posture
- Take frequent breaks from sitting – about every 30 minutes is helpful
- Take short 5- to 10-minute walks
- Try not to bend forward. Use good lifting technique. Squat, bending at your knees and keeping your chest up
- If possible, lie down 5 to 10 minutes at a time, several times during the day
- When getting out of bed, roll onto your side and push up to a sitting position by using your arms.
- Not all over-the-counter medicines are safe for everyone – especially if you have other medical conditions. Ask your doctor for guidance on which medicines to take.
Physical therapy may be helpful to decrease back pain. If you are experiencing low back pain, low back and abdominal exercises might be helpful.
- Take medications as prescribed
- Call your doctor if you are experiencing side effects from medications
- Develop, if you are overweight, a weight loss plan with your physician
- Participate in daily back-stretching and strengthening exercises
- Practice good posture when sitting, standing or lifting
- Wait for a possible medication side effect to go away on its own
- Give up. If your back pain does not decrease, ask your physician about participating in a multidisciplinary low back management program.
- Stop exercising
When to seek urgent medical attention
- If you experience worsening weakness in your arms or legs
- If you experience numbness around the buttocks or groin
- If you have a loss of bowel or bladder function
For more information about back pain and treatment, visit the Community Spine Center.