When back pain strikes, what’s your typical first reaction? Do you reach for ibuprofen? Apply ice or heat? Call your chiropractor, doctor, or massage therapist? Stretch?
Some pains require more than one resource, but Do It Yourself (DIY) strategies help in every case and sometimes are enough to resolve the issue completely. Self care includes ice and/or heat, self-massage, exercises including undulations and stretches, and rest. In addition to making treatment more convenient, DIY approaches put you—the person who is most knowledgeable about your body—in charge.
Of course, if your pain is intense or lasts for several days, see a doctor who knows about back injuries! But even if you need professional help to recover, intelligent self care will help you heal faster.
Ice or Heat?
Ice reduces inflammation and is part of the standard RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) treatment for sports injuries (http://blogs.webmd.com/busy-family-healthy-family/2006/02/sports-injuries-is-heat-or-cold.html). Heat aids in circulation and helps to relieve trigger points. Heat is generally recommended for long-term injuries and to warm up muscles before exercise (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tendinitis/AN01695).
When to use ice or heat can be tricky. Inflammation is part of the body’s healing mechanism (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/ART00381) and too much ice can damage nerves, so it’s best to apply ice in increments, no longer than 20 minutes at a time (http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/tc/low-back-pain-treatment-overview). Your pain is individual to you, so follow the general guidelines for heat and ice, but also see what works best for your body.
Another advantage of applying ice or heat is that it gives you time to rest. Rest is a vital part of healing, from anything.
Exercise is best used to prevent back pain, but when you’re in the midst of an episode, staying still can cause more stiffness as much as moving too much can cause further damage (http://www.spine-health.com/topics/conserv/overview/exercise/ex01.html). The key is to move as much as you can without discomfort, which will distribute nutrients into and remove waste products from the spine’s discs and joints. Try gentle exercises like these, but stop at any point if your pain increases.
Undulation (http://www.undulationexercise.com/undulation-view-undulations.htm) Note that the videos may take a minute to load.
If you have any questions about whether an exercise is good for you, check with your doctor or physical therapist.
Mindful exercise is like a self-created massage. It can help you learn what movements aggravate your condition, so you can avoid them, and what movements help you feel better. Empowerment—for present relief and future prevention—is the greatest benefit of DIY techniques.