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Five Ways to Cope With an Aching Back

Rest, over-the-counter pain relievers and more can help

Five Ways to Cope With an Aching Back

Sore near your spine? You’re not alone. About 70 percent of the world’s population experiences low back pain. At any given time, 1 in 4 American workers suffers.

“Often, you can address back pain at home and get it to subside in a few days or weeks,” says physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Chirag Kalola, MD, with LVPG Physiatry–Hausman Road. Move the process along with these tactics.

1. Adjust your posture.

Slouching or slumping affects your alignment, flexibility and joint movement. Instead:

  • Sit in chairs that have low back support or use a straight-backed chair with a cushion behind you to maintain your spine’s curve. Keep your knees slightly higher than your hips and your elbows close to your body.
  • Stand with your ears, shoulders and hips aligned. Hold your head level and pull your stomach in to keep your back straight. Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes. Break up standing or sitting with frequent walk breaks.
  • Sleep on a firm mattress on your side, knees bent. Place a pillow between your knees if needed.

2. Tinker with temperature.

“Ice or heat may reduce inflammation and ease aches,” says physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Steven B. Mazza, MD, with LVPG Physiatry–Brodheadsville. Use ice soon after back pain starts or after you exercise. Beginning 48 hours after the onset, try a hot shower or bath, warm compress, hot water bottle or heating pad to relax your muscles. 

3. Soothe stress.

Daily pressures can tighten your muscles, increasing the agony. “Balance out stress with leisure and relaxing time with friends and family,” Mazza says. “If problems feel overwhelming, seek a professional spine specialist for help.”

4. Work it out.

“You might need one to two days of rest after back pain sets in,” Kalola says. “But if you avoid activity for too long, your muscles can weaken, hampering your recovery.”

Keep your back muscles strong by walking around at least a few minutes every hour. Yoga, tai chi and stretching can also offer relief. Talk with your health care provider or a physical therapist about the best type of exercise for you.

5. Experiment with alternatives.

While over-the-counter medicines might help in some cases, research supports many natural therapies. These include massage, adjustments by a chiropractor or physical therapist, and acupuncture. 

“See your provider if the ache doesn’t subside or worsens within two to three weeks,” Mazza says. Also, contact a physician if the back pain is associated with stomachaches, leg weakness or numbness or if you have trouble controlling your bowel or bladder function.

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