Living with chronic back pain can be a truly debilitating experience. It can seem as though you’ve lost the ability to perform simple daily tasks. Every movement becomes overwhelming and scary. You never know if the next time you need to pick something up or even sit down will be the time your back gives out and shoots fire and pain running throughout your whole body. Doctors and back specialist recommend that you stay mobile and not sit for long periods of time. But some of us who deal with chronic back pain sit for a living. We’re your office workers, bus drivers, accountants, software developers, etc. We have no choice but to sit and sit and deal with our discomfort. Or do we? There are simple things we can do to alleviate pain.
- I’ll start with the simplest. Practice good body posture. You may or not be able to pinpoint the day or event that caused your current symptom, but that strain has probably been building for years. Going about your daily life and activities with improper posture can wreak havoc on your body. Little by little, these offenses to your system add up until something snaps.
- Secondly, I would focus on exercise and strengthening your core in particular. Most people with chronic back pain benefit greatly from strengthening the abdominal muscles. Your torso is a huge group of muscles designed to work together if your abdominal muscles are underdeveloped or weak, it increases the strain on the rest of the musculature. Usually, your back is the component in the system that picks up the slack, which can increase the chance of injury.
- You can also work on improving flexibility. If something like yoga is a little intense for you at this point in your rehabilitation, you can start by doing some simple yet effective stretches. The tension in the musculature system can cause back pain. The goal should be to increase flexibility throughout the whole body to evenly distribute weight and stress.
- This brings us to my fourth point. Always seek the help of your doctor or other licensed professional. They have dedicated their lives to this course of study and can give you detailed exercises to perform that will help your chronic back pain.
- Try and avoid extended periods of bed rest. Studies have shown that increased bed rest can actually exacerbate lower back pain and make it more difficult to perform your daily tasks. Whenever my back flares up, my doctor always recommends I get moving as soon as I can. Going for walks is a great and non-intensive way of getting a little exercise and staying mobile.
- Some specialists recommend applying heat or ice during the rehabilitation process. If you decide to do this, it is common practice to apply cold therapy for the initial 48 hours after injury, particularly if you notice swelling or inflammation, followed by heat therapy. It can be difficult to know when to use which therapy. Just remember ice for swelling or inflammation and heat for tightness and relaxation. Heat will aggravate swelling and cold will further tighten muscles, so talk to a specialist if you are unsure of which to apply to the affected area.
- If you are having to sit for long periods of time at work, or wherever, remember to take breaks. Stand up. You should stand 10-15 minutes for every hour of sitting you do. Walk around a little. I certainly know that this is often impossible to do while working. If you are unable to take a walk, just make sure you spend a little extra time during the breaks you can take and stretch. Do something to improve the next few hours of sitting instead of making it worse.
- You may be tempted to go out and purchase a back brace. That’s fine, as long as you use it sparingly and only when performing strenuous activities. Using a back brace for long periods will decrease abdominal strength as well as supporting muscles and will increase the chance of injury. A brace should be used in 15-minute increments when needed.
- Instead of using a brace I purchased a seat cushion that I take with me to my office, use while I commute and enjoy at home, usually when I watch TV. It gives me pain relief and comfort during those times when I absolutely must sit for a long time. In case you’re curious about which cushion I use because there are hundreds of options out there, I use an AirHawk Office Chair Cushion. I’m not going to go into detail about the cushion. There are reviews and tons of information you can look for if you want to. I just know I’ve tried several different cushions and this one has worked the best for me.
- The last thing I’m going to talk about is probably the most overlooked part of health in general. Sleep. Proper sleep is very important to your health. Our bodies do an immense amount of healing while we sleep, so body positioning and mattress support are vital to that process. You should get a mattress that properly supports you and doesn’t cause pressure points or hot spots on your body. If you sleep on your back, you should try sleeping with a pillow under your knees to help reduce stress on your back and provide proper curvature of the spine. If you sleep on your side, place a firm pillow between your knees. This will keep your hips aligned and reduce pulling on the spine. Stomach sleeping causes you to twist your head and neck, putting undue stress on your back. You should put a flat pillow under your stomach and pelvis area. This will keep your spine in better alignment. Your head pillow should also be flat or you should sleep without a pillow if you can. Of course, if you’re like me, you fall asleep on your back, then rotate to your stomach to get into REM sleep, then find yourself on your side in the middle of the night. So you’re basically screwed. I have a few pillows I employ for the job, depending on how I wake up in the middle of the night.
Try these tips a few times, then pick out the ones the work the best for you. I guarantee something is better than nothing. Do what you can. Because a life with chronic back pain can seem like half a life.