Did you know that 80% of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their life? It is a common cause of job-related disability with both men and women equally affected by pain which ranges from dull, continual aches to abrupt, harsh sensations that can leave the person debilitated.
What causes lower back pain? Younger adults are more likely to experience back pain from a muscle or soft tissue strain or disc related issues including degenerative disc disease or lumbar disc herniation. Adults over sixty years old are more likely to suffer from pain related to joint degeneration such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis or from a compression fracture. The top ten ways to reduce lower back pain include:
1. Talk with your Doctor First– Discussing your lower back symptoms with your doctor is always the best first step. Treatment for lower back pain depends upon individual patient history and the type and severity of pain. Fortunately, most lower back pain improves after four to six weeks and lower back pain exercises combined with topical analgesic therapy are often recommended.
2. Ditch Extra Pounds – “Losing any extra weight is highly beneficial to reducing lower back pain,” says Dr. Nathan Wei, a board-certified rheumatologist, based in Frederick, Maryland, with over 30 years of practice and clinical research experience. “Not only are mechanical factors involved, but fat cells produce leptins which are chemical mediators that promote inflammation.”
3. Get Physical with Your Therapist – “While pain may leave a person wanting to curl up in bed with a heating pad and bottle of medication to ease their aches, physical therapy can be highly effective for all types of musculoskeletal and neuropathic types of pain,” said Dave Endres, Physical Therapist and Co-Founder of SPEAR Physical Therapy in New York City. “Physical therapy includes many different types of pain management methods, including manipulation of joints and bones, massage therapy, movement therapy and exercise and even micro-current stimulation to increase serotonin and dopamine to alleviate pain naturally.”
4. Strengthen the Core – “The best exercises to help with lower back pain depend on the underlying problem,” says Dr. Wei. “What all lower back exercises have in common is their emphasis on core conditioning.” “The torso is a combination of many muscle groups working together,” says Patrick Lerouge, a Restorative Specialist and founder of Evolve Restorative Therapy, who works with patients to eliminate pain, says that when “the abdominals are weak, other areas over-exert themselves. When we strengthen the abdominals, it reduces the strain on the lower back.”
5. If you Smoke, STOP! – “Smoking causes blood flow to decrease and arteries to narrow,” said Dr. Wei. “This means that with any injury, the healing will be much slower.” A study on smoking and low back pain examined 1,337 physicians who graduated from John Hopkins University and followed some participants for more than 50 years. Researchers found that smoking history, hypertension and coronary artery diseases, which are all risk factors for atherosclerosis, were pointedly associated with low back pain.
6. Get Topical – “Topical analgesic therapy is often very effective to treat lower back pain,” says Dr. Wei. “I consider OTC topical analgesic therapy, such as the Salonpas® line, as a first-line therapy to try since they may be effective and are relatively safe. Sometimes we have to prescribe prescription anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), but I tend to avoid narcotics as much as possible.”
7. Explore Alternative Treatments – “Patients often respond positively to alternative therapies including meditation, massage therapy, acupuncture and biofeedback for pain management,” says Dr. Wei. “More than one-third of all Americans turn to alternative treatments today for medical problems including lower back pain.”
8. Get More ZZZZ’s – About two-thirds of all back pain sufferers also complain of sleep disorders. Lack of quality sleep can make lower back pain worse. Relaxation techniques, eliminating caffeine after 12 noon, using topical OTC analgesic medicine at bedtime, exercising and asking your doctor for a short-term prescription medicine to treat insomnia, are some ways to get restorative sleep.
9. Get Hot and Cold for Pain – “I am a proponent of heat and cold therapy,” says Endres. “Hot or cold packs help ease pain and reduce inflammation for people with pain, allowing for greater mobility among some individuals.” Consider Salonpas® HOT which contains capsaicin, an unscented topical analgesic. It is derived from chili peppers and provides a warming sensation that provides effective pain relief for up to 8 hours.
10. Don’t Vibrate – “If you have a lower back pain problem, avoid sitting on vibrating machinery such as lawn tractors and heavy equipment,” says Dr. Wei. “The combination of sitting and vibration can exacerbate pain.”