7 Self Care Tips for Low Back Pain
Updated: Aug 26, 2021
Low back pain is the most common reason people in the US see their primary care doctor. It’s also one of the most common reasons people seek out an acupuncturist! That’s for good reason. Whether pain is acute, chronic or recurring, acupuncture is a fantastic tool for reducing the brain’s pain response and relieving tension and tightness from the muscles that are causing that painful, “locked-up” feeling. In addition to acupuncture, cupping and gua sha, your acupuncturist is a wealth of knowledge on prevention and self-care to continue to heal and stop your back from bothering you again. Here are a few of the recommendations we often give for both acute and chronic back pain. Try them all and see what works best for you. If your pain is acute (less than 3 months), emphasize the first 5. To strengthen and prevent future back pain, add in 6 and 7.
Movement: In any injury or rehab situation, maintaining movement in whatever way you can is critical for healing. This is because movement = circulation and circulation= healing. In cases of back pain, it’s very important to do whatever movement you can, without exacerbating the pain. This could be walking or stretching or even something as simple as some arms swings or arm circles. If you’ve just “thrown your back out”, often you can’t even sit up, let alone move. That's ok, get the rest and treatment you need (see 2-5) and return or begin to move as soon as you are able. Remember, movement= healing.
Alternating ice and heat: Have you heard that icing an injury is an out of date recommendation? All icing does is numb the pain; it does not contribute to healing from pain or injury. Because of this, we recommend either heat only or alternating ice and heat. Try 10-15 minutes of ice, followed by 10-15 minutes of heat and repeat 2-3 times always ending with heat. This technique creates a sort of “pumping” effect of fresh blood to the tissue. Ice causes the blood vessels to constrict and heat causes them to dilate which will both help with pain reduction AND healing.
Topical pain creams and patches: In most cases we strongly recommend using topical pain relief products over taking oral medication like anti-inflammatories. Topical products are very effective and also targeted to the specific area of pain. You avoid potential side effects of medication, especially if you find yourself needing relief often. In many cases of acute injury we actually do not want to calm the inflammatory response your body naturally has! This inflammation is your natural healing mechanism, bringing fresh blood and oxygen to the tissue. Of course chronic inflammation is not good. Chronic cases need to be evaluated holistically to determine the cause of pain and inflammation. In the meantime, try a topical pain patch or cream. This one is our favorite. We carry it in our office if you need some.
Hip Flexor, hamstring and quad stretching: Stretching is a tried and true recommendation for low back pain because it works! When muscles that connect to the pelvis and low back are tight (often because they are weak!) they put pressure on the back, or pull the pelvis forward, causing excessive arching of the low back. The most common culprits are the hamstrings in the back of your leg, the hip flexors on the front of the pelvis and the quadriceps on the front of the leg. Here are some basic stretches that will help decrease tension in those areas. The key with stretching is to hold it for an adequate duration- 30-60 seconds- while staying relaxed and breathing deeply. Also, keep in mind that often muscles are tight because they are weak so long term strengthening will be key.
Hamstring stretches- (326) Hamstring Stretches for Tight or Sore Hamstrings - Ask Doctor Jo - YouTube
Hip Flexor Stretches- (326) hip flexor stretches - YouTube
Quad stretches- (326) Quad Pain Relief - Ask Doctor Jo - YouTube
5. Proper breathing: Breathing into your belly or using your diaphragm is an often overlooked but crucial component to overall health but back health especially. When you breathe deeply into your belly the air acts as a brace to protect your spine and back. Think of it like a natural weightlifting belt! It also triggers your body to decrease stress which leads to less muscle tension. We often see high or chronically high levels of stress as a contributing factor in back pain. (326) Breathing right for low back pain | Wake up your diaphragm core stability - YouTube
6. Hip stability and strengthening: The more stable and strong your hips and the surrounding musculature are, the more pressure they will take off your back. When you walk or bend over the glute and hip muscles should be doing most of the work but the reality for many people is these muscles are either neurologically underactive or weak. Especially if you are a desk worker, sitting in a chair for hours a day. It’s a good idea to take breaks and perform some stretches and exercises to counteract the effects of sitting and the underactivity of your hip muscles. Here are some basic exercises to get you started. (326) 7 Best Pelvic Stabilization Exercises - Ask Doctor Jo - YouTube
7. Solid base of strength: As the famous powerlifting coach Louis Simmons once said, “weak things break”. This includes your body. When your body is strong it can tolerate more stress. Not just mental or emotional stress but physical stress as well. There are several ways to develop strength including yoga and Pilates but the most effective is resistance training with weights. We would recommend finding a personal trainer who you trust to teach you the basics of strength training and once you feel comfortable, begin a program that utilizes progressive overload, or slow continual increases in weight, sets and reps to continue to build strength over time. This is a great program for that!
Let us know how it goes with these suggestions and of course please reach out if you or someone you know needs help with back pain! You can always find us at www.downtownacm.com or call or text 479-437-9056!