Almost everyone experiences low back pain at some point or another.
It may be mild or severe, may last only a short time or for years – it does, however, affect one’s daily life. Low back pain usually resolves itself in four to six weeks, through medical treatment or without. Many cases can be managed at home with self-care and home remedies.
Before we delve into home remedies for low back pain, it is important to know when medical help must be sought for back pain.
A doctor must be consulted if pain does not get better within 72 hours, and if back pain is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Severe back pain that does not allow movement during day or night
- Numbness in foot, leg, groin or rectal area
- Low back pain that continues down the leg and below the knee
- Fever, nausea, abdominal pain, weakness and sweating
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Unexplained weight loss
- History of steroid medication, substance abuse, IV drugs
In absence of the above symptoms, low back pain can be relieved through home remedies and care, without the intervention of doctor.
The first step to ease back pain is providing it rest for the first 48 hours since pain is observed.
However, inactivity for a longer period is not advised. Activity level can be gradually increased. In fact, getting up and moving about once the sharp pain and spasm subsides can ease stiffness and pain in the back.
#2 Ice or heat treatment
Applying ice or heat to the painful low back area helps reduce swelling and inflammation and ease discomfort. It is recommended to use ice or heat applications for about 20 minutes several times during the day within the first 24 to 48 hours of noticing back pain.
Heat application dilates blood vessels, which increases oxygen supply to the back, thereby reducing muscle spasms. Heating pads and disposable heat wraps can be applied to the low back.
Cold treatment decreases the size of the blood vessels and hence the blood flow to the area and swelling, a method that might seem painful at first but works to ease deep pain. Commercially available ice packs may be used or a package of frozen vegetables can also suffice.
Though simple back strains do not result in capillary bleeding, cold application is still recommended in the first 24 hours (especially when injury takes place to deep tissue) as a safety measure (early application of heat might increase pain by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow to injured tissue).
#3 Over-the-counter pain reliever
Uncomplicated musculoskeletal back pain that does affect sciatic nerve can be treated with over-the-counter medication like aspirin, ibuprofen to provide adequate relief. Most cases of low back pain subside within a few days.
However, this medication should not be continued for longer than a week at a time; medical help must be sought if pain persists.
Continued or excessive use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) poses side effects like nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, headache, rash, oedema, swelling of ankles, and more serious side effects like kidney failure, liver failure, ulcers, and prolonged bleeding after injury.
Once the initial intense pain subsides, a person experiencing low back pain is generally ready for gentle physical activities and exercise. Exercise is important in reducing back pain but also in aiding recovery, preventing re-injury to the back and reducing the risk of disability due to back pain.
The simplest exercise to get started is walking.
A physical therapist can recommend stronger exercises to further strengthen the back muscles, stomach and legs. These would include stretching and core stabilisation exercises (muscles that support the core or trunk that support the spine).
Core strengthening has various benefits that can prevent future incidences of back pain. These include improvement of posture, body balance and reduction of chances of injury.
Two exercises that can be done to start off the recovery mode are:
- Placing hands and knees on the ground, the back is arched upwards and downward several times, using slow, deliberate movements. This contracts and relaxes abdominal and back muscles in tandem with extension and flexion of spine, loosening spinal joints and toning core muscles.
- Lying on the back with knees bent, feet flat on the ground and arms on the sides, the body is lifted up from the floor, forming a bridge. The feet and shoulders support body weight. This motion is repeated several times.
Maintaining a healthy body weight, good posture and regular exercise can lower the risk of lower back pain. Care must be taken while bending or lifting, sleeping (which must be on a firm mattress) and sitting (in supportive chairs). Though initial rest period is essential in dealing with the pain, staying inactive in bed for several days only makes the pain worse. It is important to follow the simple home remedies listed above.