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Whether you just twisted the wrong way or injured yourself lifting a heavy box, low back pain affects most of us at some point in our lives. Back pain may show up after an acute injury and heal within a few weeks. But sometimes, the pain becomes chronic and continues to affect you. This article covers 13 treatments and techniques to help relieve lower back pain.
Causes of lower back pain
Low back pain is typically caused by injuries or strain to back muscles, joints, nerve pressure, bones, or other musculoskeletal problems. A torn or pulled muscle is the most common cause of back pain. These back injuries can develop slowly over time or happen suddenly.
Here are some of the common causes of injuries to lower back pain (Casiano, 2021):
- Lifting heavy objects
- Twisting, bending, or overreaching
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Lack of movement or sedentary lifestyle
- Weak core muscles
- Tight muscles
- Bad posture
- Cigarette smoking
Treatments for lower back pain
Depending on the cause of your low back pain, multiple treatments may be able to help. If you aren’t sure what’s causing your lower back pain, you may want to visit your healthcare provider. Some treatments could make some injuries worse when used for the wrong cause.
Here are some common treatments for lower back pain and what conditions they help:
1. Physical therapy
Physical therapy (PT) helps reduce pain, improve movement, and heal injuries through an exercise plan created by a physical therapist. PT helps build muscle strength, improve flexibility, support your lumbar (lower) spine, and correct problems to prevent future injuries (Casiano, 2021).
2. Chiropractic care
A chiropractor uses manual therapy and spinal manipulation techniques to adjust joints and bones, particularly in the spine. Research supports that spinal manipulation and adjustments help improve some causes of low back pain (Bussieres, 2017).
Acupuncture is a type of complementary and alternative medicine that uses thin needles to release trigger points. It’s based on traditional Chinese medicine practices that focus on how energy flows through the body to promote health and wellness.
Acupuncture: what is it, does it work, benefits, cost
The pressure points are nerve-rich areas and stimulate blood flow and circulation. A systematic review found that acupuncture may help provide short-term relief from pain and improve mobility (Liu, 2015).
Prescriptions and over-the-counter medications are available to provide lower back pain relief. Your healthcare provider could recommend occasionally taking over-the-counter pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. Just be careful not to overuse these, as they can cause damage over time.
Your healthcare provider can also prescribe medication to help relieve low back pain. Muscle relaxants, steroids, or opioids could be prescribed to help with short-term pain management (Shipton, 2018).
5. Back surgery
In some cases, surgery may be appropriate.
Surgery is generally reserved for severe cases, like progressive spinal cord compression caused by a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. A laminectomy is a type of back surgery that removes part of the vertebra bone to reduce nerve pressure. A laminectomy could be done along with a fusion, which permanently connects the spinal vertebra (Baliga, 2015).
Flexibility and range of motion are important for preventing injury and pain. There are a lot of muscles that can impact how your back feels. Your hamstring muscle in the back of your legs could affect your hips and lower back. Having rounded shoulders and a weak posture could also lead to back pain.
6 benefits of stretching to make your body feel better
7. Strength training
Keeping your muscles strong helps keep your back healthy by lowering your risk for injury. Weak core muscles are one of the causes of low back pain. Exercises that build core strength and balance may decrease pain in the lower back.
When doing strength training exercises, it’s important to use good form because improper form could increase your risk for injuries (Gordon, 2016). Work with a strength training professional as needed to help you get that form right.
8. Move often
When your muscles stay in one position for an extended period (like sitting at your work desk for hours), it can lead to muscle tension, poor posture, and back pain. Getting up for physical activity frequently during the day is essential. Try to walk around and stretch your muscles every hour to help prevent stiffness.
9. Practice good posture
The positions you regularly sit or stand in teach your muscles what position to rest in. This means sitting hunched over a computer slowly starts training the shoulders to stay rounded forward.
Practicing sitting and standing with good posture is important to the health of your back. When you first start practicing good posture with shoulders back and legs straight in front of you, it may feel uncomfortable for a while. You may feel sore from engaging different muscles to maintain this posture (Gordon, 2016).
It can take time and stretching to stay in a good posture comfortably, but over time it will become a habit and could help prevent future back pain.
10. Maintain a healthy weight
Some research suggests there is a relationship between carrying excess body fat and developing back pain (Zhang, 2018). Focusing on eating healthy foods and exercising for weight loss could help reduce some of your lower back pain.
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11. Quit smoking
This one may seem totally unrelated to back pain, but, believe it or not, research shows that cigarette smoking increases your risk for lower back pain and degenerative disc disease (Alkherayf, 2009). Talk to your healthcare provider if you’d like help quitting smoking. They can recommend a plan to help ease withdrawal side effects. Support groups are available to help provide emotional support while quitting smoking.
12. Alternate ice and heat
Both icing and applying a heating pad could help ease pain. Some people find more relief with one over the other, so try both to see which works best for you. Heat could help relax stiff and tight muscles, while icing or cold packs may help reduce swelling or inflammation.
13. Medicated creams
Medicated creams, ointments, salves, or patches may provide short term relief from back pain. These products often include ingredients, like lidocaine and menthol, that may cool, numb, or heat the problem area to temporarily reduce pain and stiffness.
Help is available
Chronic low back pain is a common problem. Still, that doesn’t mean you need to suffer through it your whole life. Lifestyle changes and other techniques are available to help provide both short and long-term relief from discomfort. Speak with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing back pain.
- Alkherayf, F. & Agbi, C. (2009). Cigarette smoking and chronic low back pain in the adult population. Clinical and Investigative Medicine, 32(5), E360–E367. doi: 10.25011/cim.v32i5.6924. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19796577/
- Baliga, S., Treon, K., & Craig, N. J. (2015). Low back pain: current surgical approaches. Asian Spine Journal, 9(4), 645–657. doi: 10.4184/asj.2015.9.4.645. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4522460/
- Bussières, A. E., Gauthier, C. A., Fournier, G., & Descarreaux, M. (2017). Spinal manipulative therapy for low back pain-time for an update. Canadian Family Physician, 63(9), 669–672. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5597007/
- Carvalho, A. P. F., Dufresne, S. S., Rogerio de Oliveira, M., Couto Furlanetto, K., Dubois, M., & Dallaire M. (2020). Effects of lumbar stabilization and muscular stretching on pain, disabilities, postural control and muscle activation in pregnant woman with low back pain. European Journal of Physical And Rehabilitation Medicine, 56(3), 297–306. doi: 10.23736/S1973-9087.20.06086-4. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32072792/
- Casiano, V. E., Dydyk, A. M., & Varacallo, M. (2021). Back pain. [Updated Jul 18, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Sep. 29, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538173/
- Gordon, R. & Bloxham, S. (2016). A systematic review of the effects of exercise and physical activity on non-specific chronic low back pain. Healthcare, 4(2), 22. doi: 10.3390/healthcare4020022. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934575/
- Liu, L., Skinner, M., McDonough, S., Mabire, L., & Baxter, G. D. (2015). Acupuncture for low back pain: an overview of systematic reviews. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM, 2015, 328196. doi: 10.1155/2015/328196. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4364128/
- Shipton, E. A. (2018). Physical therapy approaches in the treatment of low back pain. Pain and Therapy, 7(2), 127–137. doi: 10.1007/s40122-018-0105-x. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6251828/
- Zhang, T. T., Liu, Z., Liu, Y. L., Zhao, J. J., Liu, D. W., & Tian, Q. B. (2018). Obesity as a risk factor for low back pain: a meta-analysis. Clinical Spine Surgery, 31(1), 22–27. doi: 10.1097/BSD.0000000000000468. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27875413/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.