Tips to help with Back Pain by Dr Kristin Gullen, DPT
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
Did you know that 80% of people experience back pain at some point in their lives?
For some people, it may occur following a specific event; Maybe they were lifting a heavy box at work, bending forward to pick something up from the floor, or playing a game of tennis and afterwards felt intense pain and stiffness. For others, back pain may come on more gradually; Perhaps they started to notice it after their daily commute to work got longer, or at the end of the holiday season after hosting several parties and cooking up a storm all winter! Or, maybe it has just seemed to creep up gradually and they chalk it up to getting older.
In any case, the good news is that there is hope and you are not alone in your experience. Your body is resilient. You can recover and get back to doing the things you love to do!
The experience of back pain is not usually directly related to structural damage or dysfunction. It has more to do with the overall sensitivity level of the body and its perception of danger. When tissues get overloaded, pain acts as a protective mechanism to alert you to temporarily avoid certain positions that are aggravating while the sensitivity level is high.
However, this sensitivity generally decreases given a bit of time.
Here are a few things you can do and principles you can remind yourself of in the meantime:
A little bit of TLC can go a long way. A good place to start when you are having a flare up of back pain is to give yourself a little bit of time to rest and recover. Get some extra sleep. Lighten up your daily routine. Instead of pushing through the pain, give yourself permission to modify things temporarily until you start feeling a bit better.
Another important step in recovering from back pain is to get moving. Us physical therapists like to use the expression “movement is medicine” or "Motion is Lotion"! It’s true! Movement — even gentle, low intensity movement or exercise is beneficial for promoting blood flow, decreasing stiffness, and modulating pain. Moving within your tolerance level provides input to your nervous system. It retrains your brain to understand that these movements are safe again so that you can gradually ease back into your normal activities.
Here are some ideas of easing movements and exercises:
-Lower trunk rotations
Lying on your back in bed (or on the floor if you are able) with knees bent, feet flat on the ground, legs resting together, and hands on your belly or at your sides, gentle rock your legs side to side as it feels comfortable. You may feel some gentle movement or stretching in your back/ hips. The goal here isn’t to get as far as you can, but simply to promote joint nutrition, lubrication, and mobility. Try 1-2 sets of 20 first thing in the morning.
This is one of my favorite exercises because it helps to unload and decompress the back while mobilizing the hips and bringing awareness to easing spine alignment. On the floor or bed, get onto your hands and knees so that your hands are underneath your shoulders and knees are hip distance apart. Keeping your back in a relatively straight or neutral position, gently rock your hips back towards your heels, maintaining the neutral alignment of your spine, and then return to the starting position. Repeat this oscillating movement about 20 times within a comfortable range of motion.
Get some fresh air and go for a 5-10 minute walk outside on level ground. Even better if you bring a friend to tag along with you!
One of the most common factors underlying back pain is a lack of core stability to provide support to the spine. Without adequate stability and movement coordination, certain tissues may begin to compensate, causing them get over stressed and irritated. To decrease stress on these tissues and even prevent future injuries, it is helpful to practice engaging the core muscles to increase stability to protect the spine. Movement practices like Clinical Pilates are wonderful for learning how to properly engage core muscles. With practice, engagement of these muscles will become automatic and carry over into daily activities.
Above all else, know that you are not alone and we are here to serve and support you in any way that we can. If you have any questions or are interested in diving further into these topics, please let us know! We believe you can and will heal from your back pain and get back to a full, joy-filled life! We would be honored to help you along the journey.
Check out our YouTube channel for more tips and advice: