1) Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (also known as PMR, Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation or deep muscle relaxation) is a common technique used to relax muscles. This technique involves isolating and focusing on a particular muscle group and alternating between relaxing and tensing the muscles of that group. First the muscles are actively relaxed then actively flexed, or tensed, and then fully relaxed again. This is thought to interrupt the mental and emotional stress that can cause our muscles to tense up and make back pain worse.
There are a number of ways that our emotions can contribute to our pain so to find out what they are check out my blog ‘Are your emotions to blame for your joint pain?’ A number of studies have suggested that progressive muscle relaxation can help to relieve low back pain and improve flexibility.
2) Move more and strengthen your core!
Historically when it came to back pain the thinking was that ‘bed rest is best’ but actually experts now advocate a different approach, believing that those who attempt to remain active are more likely to recover quickly. Gentle stretches, walking and frequently alternating between sitting and standing can help to stabilise and strengthen your spine to prevent any muscular imbalances.
Your core muscles play an important role in supporting your lower spine – if they’re weak then you’re bound to have some trouble! Another often overlooked area that can contribute to back pain is your hamstrings. Located on the back of the thighs, tight hamstrings place stress on the lower back and sacroiliac joints which can contribute to low back pain. Check out our blog for some easy stretches you can try to relieve tight hamstrings.
Another stretch you can try is this gentle seated twist demonstrated in the video below. Be sure to make small movements though as jerking your way into a twist can cause some unpleasant pain! This stretch helps to lengthen the piriformis muscle (located deep in the butt behind the glutes) which is often associated with sciatica. When practicing this stretch make sure to keep a straight spine and your chest lifted.
3) Hot and cold
It’s time to dig out that handy bag of frozen peas! In the first 24-48 hours of experiencing low back pain ice is normally better than heat as it helps to reduce inflammation. Applying a cold compress to the affected area can help to soothe back pain as it constricts the blood vessels therefore reducing blood flow to the area which helps slow inflammation and swelling. Heat, on the other hand, helps to stimulate blood flow thus providing freshly oxygenated blood that is full of nutrients to the affected area of your back.
Although heat and ice can be used interchangeably (after the initial 48 hours of experiencing the pain) it’s important to note that sometimes one can be more beneficial than the other depending on the type of pain you are experiencing. For chronic problems that have lasted for weeks, months, or years (examples include arthritis and sciatica) heat is generally best. Circulation in chronic pain conditions is often compromised as a result of scar tissue, compressed blood vessels or crushed nerves. Heat aims to ease chronic stiffness and provides your circulation with a little boost.
For acute pain – that is pain which appears suddenly but eases after a day or a week – ice is usually better. Within the first 12-48 hours of first experiencing pain blood rushes to the area causing inflammation, redness and sometimes swelling. Applying ice or a cold pack in this case is used in an attempt to reduce inflammation by reducing blood circulation to the area. To learn more about whether heat or ice is best for you check out my blog ‘Heat or ice: which is best for your pain or injury?’
4) Herbs, herbs, herbs!
Those of you who are frequent readers of my blog will not be surprised in the least when I suggest some helpful herbs for easing off your back pain. There are many herbs such as turmeric and ginger which have natural anti-inflammatory properties that are easily accessible and can help to relieve inflammatory pain.
However, if you’re looking for a remedy to try I’d suggest our Atrosan Devil’s Claw tablets which are our licensed herbal remedy for the relief of backache, rheumatism and muscle and joint pain. This herbal remedy can be used alongside other pain medications as it contains no harmful ingredients that are contraindicated with the substances found in pain medication.
5) Get the best bed for your back
Hard mattresses with uncompromising springs may not be doing your back pain any favours! It is thought that medium to firm mattresses are more likely to be beneficial for your back than those that are entirely firm. That being said one mattress certainly won’t suit all sleepers so it’s important to take time to try out different comfort styles to find the one that works best for you.
If you tend to sleep on your back look for a medium-firm mattress that is firm enough to support the lower back whilst also soft enough to work alongside your body. Too firm a mattress can push too much against the spine whereas too soft a mattress won’t provide you with enough support. If you sleep on your side rather than your back look for mattresses that will cushion the shoulders and hips. Finally, if you tend to sleep on your stomach opt for a mattress with more firmness to prevent you from sinking too deep into the mattress.
Although I’ve provided you with a brief guide above, most of us don’t sleep in the one position and use a variety of sleeping positions throughout the night. So, again, this is about trying out lots of mattresses for yourself to see which one is right for you.
6) Think about your back from the ground up
Sometimes back troubles can arise from overcompensating for another area of the body. For example, if you are pigeon toed or if your feet roll inwards when you walk, you will be more likely to experience back pain. The way that our foot moves when we take a step directs how the rest of our body will follow.
Although areas of the body like your feet seem way far off from your back they can most definitely contribute to back pain as a result of a kinetic chain. A kinetic chain is the notion that your joints and their nearby areas have an effect on one another during movement – when one is in motion it creates a sequence or chain of events that affect the movement of their neighbours. To find out more about how your feet and back pain can be related check out my blog ‘Why shoes could be responsible for your back pain’ where I discuss the worst shoe offenders for your back pain.
Slouching is another culprit for back pain, when we slouch it means that our core and back muscles aren’t strong enough to keep us upright. Slouching results in the back collapsing in on itself which places additional strain on the back this, in turn, results in back pain and poor posture.
7) Rethink your pain entirely
No, your back pain is certainly not ‘all in your head’ but negative feelings can actually amplify our perception of pain. Pain is not just a sensation but it is a complicated and intricate process that involves our brain and pain signals. You can change your own interpretation of these pain signals to influence how you perceive your pain – in other words you can retrain your brain to reduce or ignore pain signals.
Negative thought patterns can create anxiety about your back pain and over time this anxiety can cause our muscles to tense up and add to the problem. Although rethinking your pain will not make it go away, it can prove to be a beneficial way to cope and could even potentially relieve some of your symptoms.