RX Advice

Sleep Better. When you have back pain, sleeping can be hard. It can be a vicious cycle because when you don’t get enough sleep, your back pain may feel worse. A poor sleep position can also aggravate back pain. Try lying on your side. Place a pillow between your knees to keep your spine in a neutral position and relieve strain on your back. If you need to sleep on your back, slide a pillow under your knees. Anyone with back or neck pain should take a Goldilocks approach to mattress buying: not too hard, and not too soft. “If you’re on too soft [of] a mattress, you’ll start to sink down to the bottom. But on too hard of a mattress you have too much pressure on the sacrum, and on the shoulders, and on the back of the head.  A medium-firm mattress, or a firm mattress with a softer pillow top, will give your spine that “just-right” balance of support and cushioning.

Ice and Heat to Ease Back Pain. Regular applications of ice to the painful areas on your back may help reduce pain and inflammation from an injury. Try this several times a day for up to 20 minutes each time. After a few days, switch to heat. Apply a heating pad or warm pack to help relax your muscles and increase blood flowing to the affected area. You also can try warm baths to help with relaxation. To avoid burns and tissue damage, never sleep on a heating pad.

Keep moving. Our spines are like the rest of our body — they’re meant to move.  Keep doing your daily activities. Make the beds, go to work, walk the dog. Once you’re feeling better, regular aerobic exercises like swimming, bicycling, and walking can keep you — and your back — more mobile. Just don’t overdo it. There’s no need to run a marathon when your back is sore.

Stay strong. Once your low back pain has receded, you can help avert future episodes of back pain by working the muscles that support your lower back, including the back extensor muscles. “They help you maintain the proper posture and alignment of your spine. Having strong hip, pelvic, and abdominal muscles also gives you more back support.

Stretch. Don’t sit slumped in your desk chair all day. Get up every 30 minutes or so and stretch the other way. Because most of us spend a lot of time bending forward in our jobs, it’s important to stand up and stretch backward throughout the day.  Don’t forget to also stretch your legs. Some people find relief from their back pain by doing a regular stretching routine, like yoga.

Think ergonomically. Design your workspace so you don’t have to hunch forward to see your computer monitor or reach way out for your mouse. Use a desk chair that supports your lower back and allows you to keep your feet planted firmly on the floor.

Watch your posture. Slumping makes it harder for your back to support your weight. Be especially careful of your posture when lifting heavy objects. Never bend over from the waist. Instead, bend and straighten from the knees.

Wear low heels. Exchange your four-inch pumps for flats or low heels (less than 1 inch). High heels may create a more unstable posture, and increase pressure on your lower spine.

Watch your weight. Use diet and exercise to keep your weight within a healthy range for your height. Being overweight puts excess stress on your spine.

Anti-inflammatory drugs. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can help however are riskier than you might think.  Be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist about any interactions over-the-counter pain relievers may have with other medications you are taking. People with a history of certain medical conditions (such as ulcers, kidney disease, and liver disease) should avoid some medicines.

Call Dr. Helm if: 

Your neck or low back pain is severe, doesn’t go away after a few days, or it hurts even when you’re at rest or lying down.

You were injured, or you feel numbness, weakness, or tingling in the legs or arms, or you have trouble standing or walking.

You’re tired of hurting and want to be pain free!

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