What to do when acute back pain strikes
Most adults experience back pain at some point if their lives, and most of us experience it more than once. It can strike without warning while we are lifting, playing sports or simply getting out of our car. Sometimes it can take our breath away or cause us to miss work. It can also interfere with sleep and all we want is for it to go away!
Acute back pain, is back pain the lasts for a short period of time, usually days or weeks. When it lasts more than 3 months we consider that to be chronic.
This article will outline the steps you can take when back pain strikes. The goal is to provide you with easy to implement ideas that can ease pain when it strikes. However, it is always best to seek the advice of a professional, such as a chiropractor, or physiotherapist, as they can provide more specific advice for your particular case of back pain. The following are a few things to try when back pain strikes, with the goal of reducing its impact on your life.
Use some ice
When acute back pain strikes, it is best to reach for the ice pack first. Place it on the affected area for 15 minutes every hour for the first 3 hours. This will help reduce inflammation, which is the main cause of the acute pain.
Ice is better than heat because heat can actually increase inflammation, which can make the pain worse.
That being said, there is no once size fits all rule, and if heat is working for you then stick with that.
Drink lots of water
Water is another way we can reduce inflammation in the body. Make sure the water you are drinking is pure and filtered and not just from the tap. Water can help flush out the biochemicals associated with pain and inflammation, thus reducing pain.
Often we do not consume enough water throughout the day, but when pain strikes it is important to drink water rather than coffee or tea, which can actually have a negative impact on pain.
Sugary drinks, processed foods and unhealthy eating in general can also impact our levels of pain. It is always important to eat healthy, but when pain strikes it is especially important to put aside the sugar, wheat and coffee as these foods and drinks can increase pain, by raising inflammation in our bodies.
If acute back pain is the result of an injury, or associated with sciatica (pain down the leg), then it is important to use rest to help allow the affected area to heal. If acute pain strikes and it is difficult to move around much without going into spasm, try to find a position that is comfortable and stay there. Some find that lying down is helpful while others do better sitting in their favorite chair or lazy boy. The position itself is not as important as simply finding a position that relieves the pain.
If you are struggling to get comfortable, you can trying lying on your back with a pillow under your knees.
Another alternative position that can provide relief is lying on the floor with your legs and feet on the couch or a chair with 90 degree angles at your hips and knees.
These positions can ease pain by placing your spine in a neutral relaxed position. Stay there for 10-15 minutes and when you are ready to get up, move slowly.
Move around if you can
While dealing with any type of back pain, it is important to balance rest and movement. For some this might be hard because movement hurts, but is important to try and move around as much as you are able to, otherwise your back can become tighter and the pain can take longer to go away.
Even just walking around your house a few times, between resting periods or doing some light house chores are ways of getting up and keeping moving while in pain, these types of activities might be painful but are unlikely to cause further injury to your back.
Do not lift
Lifting is often the cause of acute back pain, and repetitive lifting can lead to chronic back problems and flare ups of spasms and sciatica. It is important to avoid lifting or get help lifting if you are having an episode of back pain. If you must lift, then follow the ergonomic advice of bending at the knees and hips to lift. This avoids the need to arch your back (second picture) which can place tremendous strain on the ligaments and muscles in your back leading to injury and pain.
If lifting is part of your everyday tasks and or work life, then practice these tips to avoid back problems. Also remember that while carrying a load, keep it as close to your body as possible, get assistance to ease the strain or use dollies or carts, to move really heavy things. Take your time, because usually when someone is in a hurry, it is easy for them to forget these important tips.
Brace Your Abs
Abdominal bracing is a key strategy to minimizing pain while moving around during an episode of acute back pain. The most common thing people do when told to "brace your abs" is suck in their stomach. However this is not an effective strategy for creating a brace to support the spine. In fact, sucking in your stomach can actually put your spine and trunk in a more compromised position and therefore you are more likely to feel pain or injure yourself if you use this strategy.
The key to bracing your abs effectively is to push your stomach outward which will activate the abdominal wall and create a more stable brace for your spine and trunk during movement.
Push gently, the tips of your fingers into your stomach. Then push your stomach into your fingers so that they move outward and hold. This is how bracing your abs properly is achieved. Try activating your abs before initiating movement to minimize pain. You can also practice bracing your abs during lifting to avoid injuries in the future.
Seek the advice of a professional
Although the above strategies can be very effective for acute back pain episodes, most often it is best to seek the advice of a professional who is trained to know exactly what to do, and can make very specific recommendations to help you. Chiropractors and physiotherapists are usually where people go to when back pain strikes. If you are hesitant about using medications or simply don't want to bother your doctor with concerns of back pain, call your local chiropractor or physiotherapist instead.
Chiropractors and physiotherapists are trained to diagnose and treat acute back pain episodes. After a thorough examination and history they will provide a treatment strategy that should include advice like the information above. If joints or muscles are not moving properly and contributing to your pain, they can treat this type of dysfunction which will aid in the healing process. It's never too late to start and their advice can save you from chronic back problems and future episodes of pain.