Get Your Back Up: Basic Tips to Beat Back Pain

In most cases, back pain is treatable with simple home remedies and by adopting better body mechanics

Back pain — if you’ve ever experienced it, you know how debilitating it can be. Even simple activities such as walking, sitting or sleeping can cause major discomfort.

Four out of five adults experience back pain at some point in their lives. In fact, back pain is one of the most common reasons for health care visits and missed work (second only to the common cold). A survey by Health Canada estimated that musculoskeletal disorders, including back pain, cost society a total of $16.4 billion in direct treatment and rehabilitation costs and lost productivity.

The good news is that in most cases, back pain can be eased with simple home remedies and by adopting better body mechanics. Surgery is rarely needed to treat back pain.

What causes the pain?

The lower back bears most of the body’s weight and stress. In most cases, back pain is caused by improper or heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement. But these medical conditions can also cause back pain:

Herniated disk. This occurs when disk material presses on a nerve.

Sciatica. In this case, the herniated disk encroaches on the sciatic nerve causing sharp, shooting pain through the buttocks and back of the leg.

Spinal stenosis. The space around the spinal cord and nerve roots narrows due to arthritis and bone overgrowth. This can press or pinch a nerve.

Spondylosis. This is a type of arthritis affecting the spine. Back pain results from degenerative changes in the spine that occurs with aging.

Spondylolisthesis. One vertebra in the spinal column “slips” forward over another.

Rare but more serious causes of back pain include:

Cauda equina syndrome. A serious neurological problem causing weakness in the legs, numbness in the groin area and loss of bowel or bladder control.

Cancer in the spine. A tumor on the spine presses on a nerve causing back pain.

Infection of the spine. If a fever and a tender, warm area accompany back pain, infection could be the cause.

Injury. Pain can be the result of damage to the bones, ligaments, or muscles of the back.

back-pain-2When to seek medical help

In rare cases, back pain can signal a serious health problem. See a doctor immediately if your back pain:

• Is constant or intense, especially when lying down
• Spreads down one or both legs
• Causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs
• Causes new bowel or bladder problems
• Is accompanied by abdominal pain or throbbing, or fever
• Is a result of a fall or another injury
• Is accompanied by unexplained weight loss

Also, it’s a good idea to see your doctor if it’s a new pain and you’re older than 50 or have a history of cancer, osteoporosis, steroid use, or drug or alcohol abuse.



Most back pain can be relieved after several weeks of home treatment including a regular schedule of pain relievers and hot and cold therapy. While some bed rest may help, too much of it can actually cause more harm than good. A Finnish study found that exercise was more effective in mobilizing the back than bed rest.

Medications and therapies include:

Physical therapy and exercise. A physical therapist can help to reduce pain with a variety of treatments including electrical stimulation, acupuncture and muscle release techniques. As you begin to heal, the therapist can also teach you specific exercises to increase your flexibility, strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, and improve your posture to prevent pain from recurring.

Prescription medications. In cases where over-the-counter pain relievers are not effective, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or a muscle relaxant may be prescribed.

Cortisone injections. If you have pain radiating down your leg from a pinched nerve, your doctor may prescribe cortisone injections around your spinal cord. A cortisone injection helps decrease inflammation around the nerve roots.

Electrical stimulation. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) sends a weak electrical current through points on the skin to nerve pathways. The idea is to interrupt pain signals, preventing them from reaching your brain. Although considered safe (and painless), TENS doesn’t work for everyone.

Treatments for chronic back pain may include use of antidepressant medications or narcotics. Surgery is usually only used for pain caused by a herniated disk.

Alternative or complimentary treatments include acupuncture and chiropractic care. Botox (botulinum toxin) injections, known primarily as an anti-aging treatment for wrinkles, have also been used to treat back pain as well as other types of chronic pain .



Practicing proper body mechanics go a long way in keeping back pain at bay. The Mayo Clinic offers the following recommendations to keep your back healthy and strong.

Exercise. Low-impact aerobic activities that don’t strain or jolt your back can increase strength and endurance in back muscles. Walking and swimming can be good choices — talk with your doctor about kind of exercise is best for you.

Build muscle strength and flexibility. Abdominal and back muscle exercises (core-strengthening exercises) help condition muscles so that they work together to protect your back. Flexibility in your hips and upper legs aligns your pelvic bones to improve back health.

Quit smoking. Smokers have diminished oxygen levels in their spinal tissues, which can slow the healing process.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts strain on your back muscles.

Use proper body mechanics, including:

• When you stand, try to maintain a neutral pelvic position. When standing for long periods, relieve your lower back by alternately placing your feet on a low footstool.

• Choose a seat with good lower back support, arm rests and a swivel base. You can also place a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level.

• When doing any lifting, let your legs do the work. Move straight up and down, keeping your back straight, and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body and avoid lifting and twisting simultaneously. If the object is awkward or heavy, recruit a lifting partner.

• When selecting a back-friendly mattress, recent studies indicate that a medium-firm (rather than firm) mattress might be best. Use pillows for support, as long as the pillow doesn’t force your neck up at a severe angle.

Source: The Mayo Clinic

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