If you are experiencing an episode of back pain, there is no need to panic. Though it can be painful and may affect your capability in performing your routine tasks at this moment, the condition will improve within 2 days, up to 2 weeks.
However, that does not mean you should just simply endure with the pain or use it as an excuse to lie down on the bed the whole day through. This is even true for those who have visited a good chiropractor, osteomyologist or physiotherapist. Engaging the help from these professionals to relieve your back pain does not mean that the underlying problem is gone.
In fact, the real cause of back pain is due to the complex pattern of musculoskeletal imbalance and dysfunction that had established over a period of time. As such, this required some knowledge on the common causes as well as the 9 tips you can do to manage back pain during flare ups.
6 Common Causes Of Back Pain
- Sprains and strains
This usually happens as a result of a lifting injury, a problem during bending or some forms of sudden physical exertion, putting strains on muscles or ligaments in the back.
- Myofascial pain
A common cause of chronic back pain and is usually treated via massage, physiotherapy and acupuncture. This is a form of muscle pain due to “trigger points” within particular muscles group. These are small hyper-sensitive areas within the muscles, which often coincide with the development of little nodules.It is often characterized by pain radiating from the trigger point and can mimic other conditions, which is a common cause of pseudo-sciatica (back pain and radiation of pain down the leg).
- Fibromyalgia syndrome
A complex condition which muscular pain can be experienced anywhere in the body, including the back. Muscles can become tender and movements are limited. Usually, it builds up and worsens over a few weeks.
- Disc problems
Though ‘slipped disc’ is a common term used, it does not actually mean that the disc do slip out. What really happen is that a disc can bulge and may result in irritations on surrounding tissues or nerve roots. At times, a disc can ‘prolapse’, meaning that the annulus fibrosus, partially ruptures to allow some of the inner jelly-like nucleus pulposus to seep out. If this happens near a nerve, it will irritate it and pain can be felt down the course of the nerve. Either of these cases can cause sciatica, where the sciatic nerve which is the main nerve gets irritated. This is the complex nerve formed from several lumbar and sacral nerve roots.
- Joint degeneration
Arthritis in the spinal column can result in bony outgrowths forming on vertebrae, erosion of cartilage as well as drying and shrinking of discs. Besides, the small facet joints which allow the vertebrae to glide and move may be affected. This is usually a result of osteoarthritis which is generally considered to be a type of wear-and-tear problem of all joints. Facet syndrome is a situation where 1 or more of the facet joints become inflamed, causing the back to lock up. It can occur very suddenly when bending.
In older people, osteoporosis or ‘thinning of the bones’ can produce pain in the thoracic spine, effectively the upper back. This loss of bone mass can predispose people to fractures of the wrist, hips and thoracic vertebrae.The thoracic vertebrae can become distorted or compressed at one edge and effectively collapse. This happens in ‘crush fractures’ of the thoracic spine and results in very sudden, severe pain.
Risk Factors Of Back Pain
- Smoking: Reduces the body’s ability to repair itself, promotes inflammation and interferes with the absorption of calcium.
- Obesity: A mechanical problem as being overweight puts a continual strain on the spine.
- Congenital structural problems: Some people are born with defects in the structure of the vertebrae, the pelvis or the limbs. Anything which causes the body to adopt a posture that is not symmetrical will predispose to back pain.
- Scoliosis: This refers to a sideward bend in the back. It will cause the body to bear weight in an uneven manner.
- Older age: Increased bone loss with age, effectively thinning the bones.
- Gender: Bones in females are generally smaller and thinner as compare with males.
- Strenuous work: Causes wear and tear on the skeleton.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Causes weakness in the supporting muscles of the back.
- Stressful occupation: With increased stress, the body is less able to repair itself and promotes inflammatory reactions.
- Anxiety and depression: This is a fact that anxious people are more likely to experience painful conditions. On the other hand, depression seems to lower the threshold for pain.
The above mentioned risk factors generally increased the chances of getting back pain. Other than inherited medical conditions and old age, try to work on these factors by discussing with your doctor.
9 Simple Tips For Relieving Back Pain
- Rest for a short period only
Though rest is essential during episode of back pain, it is recommended not to lie on bed for more than 2 days. Prolonged bed rest can actually results in muscles wasting or weakness, drops in your fitness levels, thrombosis condition (blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the calf muscles, which can be potential fatal), increased body stiffness as well as depression and anxiety. All these negative effects can actually delay the recovery process. Besides, it is advisable to lie on your side or on your back with your knees bent, using a pillow or cushion to rest.
- Try a rubefacient
Rebufacient is an agent that produces local heat or irritation of the skin over the area, over-riding pain signals from the deeper tissues. Generally, they can be applied over the painful areas 2 to 4 times a day. Common types of rubefacients include tiger balm, dog oil or creams and gels that contain ibuprofen and capsaicin.
- Try hot and cold treatment
The basic principle for this treatment is that cold is good for reducing inflammation and heat is useful for easing pain as well as stiffness.
- Cold treatments
- Cause blood vessels to constrict which is ideal when treating inflamed tissue. As such, it is recommended to use cold treatment after an acute injury as it also produces numbness, having a pain relieve effect.
- It should be used repeatedly in the first 24 to 48 hours after an acute injury by using crush ice in a plastic bag or a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a towel.
- As a general rule of thumb, 5 to 10 minutes is the ideal time for application and 20 minutes is the maximum if you were to apply cold continuously.
- Ensure that the skin does not get excessively white and if the back starts to hurt more, remove the cold pack.
- Heat treatments
- This is usually applied after the cold treatment after an acute injury. This is because heat tends to dilute blood vessels which can worsen the inflammation condition. It is ideal for relaxing the muscles or ease pain from muscle spasm.
- Heat is only effective if the back is sore and stiff. Heat treatment should be avoided when there is obvious inflammation or when the skin present redness and feels hot.
- You can use a wheat pack which can be heat up in a microwave for few minutes. Next you can wrap it and start the application. Otherwise, the old-fashion hot water bottle can be very soothing.
- Hot baths or showers can be used as well. However, the duration should not be more than 20 minutes. Saunas, Turkish bath or Jacuzzi are also some of the good options.
- Have a massage
This is a form of natural treatment for back pain. Gentle rubbing or stroking over the painful area with a cream such as olive oil or arnica helps in stimulating blood circulation. Besides, it also stimulates the circulation of the lymph system which runs parallel with the circulatory system.
This encourages removal of debris and inflammatory agents of the lymphatic system. You can consider to engage a professional massage therapist or physiotherapist to speed up the recovery during an acute back pain episode.
- Try alternative therapies
Yoga, Alexander technique or Tai Chi is a good form of alternative therapies which can be incorporate into your daily lifestyle. These therapies helps to improve on your posture and therefore effective to manage back pain.
However, before you start any one of these therapy, do consult your doctor if you are a good candidate. This is especially true if you are experiencing a prolapsed intervertebral disc, a bulging disc or nerve root irritation in the neck. This is because it may worsens the condition due to excessive bending positions.
- Exercise to reduce pain
Exercising to reduce pain is all about improving posture and being aware of the positions that your body gets into, the positions that the body has adopted in order to experience least discomfort.
There are several simple exercises which are intended to ease the pain and relax the affected muscles directly. The theory behind these exercises is that it uses other muscles to help the body to get into better posture and therefore, help the contracted ‘spasmed’ muscles to relax.
You can try out the exercises below to manage your back pain:
- Sitting knee squeeze
- Sit on the chair with your feet flat on the floor at 90 degree to your shins, knees bending at 90 degree.
- Sit upright so that your whole trunk is at 90 degree to your thighs, as if you are trying to push the top of your head towards the ceiling.
- Put the cushion between the knees. Slowly squeeze and then slowly relax your thighs so that you clasp and unclasp the cushion. Do 3 sets with 12 repetitions.
- Lying knee squeeze
- Lie down on your back on the floor. Place your calves on the chair or stack of cushions, at a height so that your thighs are at right angles to your back, and your shins are at right angles to your thighs.
- Ensure that you should have 90 degree angles at the hips and at the knees. Place the cushion between your knees and slowly squeeze and then slowly relax your thigh muscles as you clasp the cushion. Do 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
- Knee hugging
- With one leg flat on the floor, bend your other leg at the knee as much as you can, and throw your arms about the lower leg so that you can hug it round the knee.
- Try to bring your thigh down towards you so that it touches your trunk. Hold that position for just 5 seconds at a time. Do the same with the other leg, repeat 5 times on each side.
- Gentle spinal rotation
- Stand with your feet about 6 inches apart. With your arms stretched out in front of you, gradually turn your trunk as far as you find comfortable.
- Do this one way then the other so that you build up a rhythm. Continue this exercise for 30 seconds.
- Adopt sports that are beneficial to your back
Sport is an enjoyable way of getting exercise to strengthen your back muscles as well as overall fitness. It is advisable to check with your doctor on what sports you are suitable to play which are within your capability.
Some simple and two-sided sports (involving both sides of the body) include:
- Walking: Most simple and one of the ideal sports that you can indulge in for your back.
- Jogging: This involves more juddering impact on the back than walking. Always build up your distance gradually and wear appropriate footwear.
- Swimming: Excellent sport as it is two-sided and is not weight-bearing. It is recommended to vary your stroke and consider engaging an instructor to build up your repertoire of strokes.
- Rowing: This uses many muscles and is good for strength and flexibility.
- Cycling: Good form of sport that builds up strength and endurance. Ensure that you are adopting a correct and comfortable posture for your back while cycling.
- Make changes to your lifestyle
If you are experiencing frequent flare-ups for your back problems, perhaps it is time to examine your lifestyle and find out what are the contributing factors.
If you have bad habits like smoking or regular drinking of alcoholics, it is wise to kick them off. If you are overweight, it undoubtedly predisposes you to back pain. Therefore, it is advisable to cut out the junk food and aim for a healthy BMI (body mass index) between 18.5 to 25.
Junk food refers to ‘fast’ food which usually comes with added fat, sugar and salt as well as processed foods with lots of additives. In actual fact, junk food promotes inflammation since it include trans fats and saturated fats. Arachidonic acid, one of the fatty acids found in these fats is broken down by enzymes into prostaglandins and leukotrienes, chemicals that trigger inflammation.
Diets high in sugar is also associated with increased inflammation and predisposes you to obesity and diabetes. Consider eliminating high-sugar foods such as fizzy drinks, pastries, pre-sweetened cereals and confectionery from your diet. Preserved foods contained nitrates since they are used as preservatives in many processed foods, which promote inflammation.
- Opt for anti-inflammatory foods
A healthy diet should include anti-inflammatory foods such as spreads, juices and milk which has good source of omega-3s. If possible, omega-3s in their natural forms from oily fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines will be more preferred. Try to have 2 or 3 portions a week.
Besides, consider using anti-inflammatory spices in your cooking which includes curumin, ginger and capsaicin. They may help to reduce inflammation if used regularly. However, as they are ‘healing herbs’, you need to be careful as they can also cause indigestion for some individuals.
On top of that, try to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day to supply your body system with anti-oxidants, which helps to reduce inflammation also. Lastly, many of you may forget the importance of water, the ultimate energy drink.
By staying hydrated, your body system will then be able to perform at its best. By simply maintaining your water intake between 6 to 8 glasses a day, it may significantly reduce your back pain level.
Besides the above mentioned tips which you can do to manage back pain, the most important aspect is having a positive mental attitude. In fact, this applied to all other medical conditions. If you think that your back problems are not going to get any better, believe me, the condition will get worse. The tips are not meant to be a miracle cure but rather help you to cultivate a positive mindset in dealing with your back pain.
Of course, the first port of call when you think that you are having back problems and experiencing pain, talk to your doctor. Get a diagnosis or even a full body check up to address the root causes before an effective treatment regime can be designed to your needs. Take control and you can be on your way to recovery and of course, say goodbye to your back pain.