Dealing With Lower Back Pain
Eighty percent of North Americans will experience lower back pain at some point in their life. How do you know if your lower back pain is a muscle strain or something more serious? The fact is that you are probably the best judge of just how serious your injury is. Back pain can be anything from mild to excruciating. It can be localized, diffused or radiating. The more intense the pain is, the more seriously you should take it. Likewise if the pain radiates into your legs, you should seek professional advice. No matter what you do, you will benefit from these few suggestions to help manage your pain, and reduce your recovery time.
Heat and cold therapy are extremely effective, natural ways of managing pain and injury. For a recent injury, cold therapy is best for the first few days. Begin by finding something cold that conforms to your skin; frozen gel packs, grain bags (aka magic bags) or frozen vegetable bags. Always, place a damp towel between the frozen bag and your skin for protection. Apply the treatment for only fifteen minutes, and then remove it for a similar length of time. You can repeat this cycle several times per day. Heat, on the other hand is best used when there is no inflammation and the intense pain has settled down, or for chronic pain.
The golden rule of muscle and other soft tissue rehabilitation is to carefully stretch and strengthen the area, once inflammation has subsided. Once again, it is wise to see a health professional for advice on specific stretches. However, to prevent further back injuries you will primarily want to stretch out your back muscles, as well as strengthen your back and abdominal muscles. Remember, if you feel pain then back off of the stretch, or the exercise. Pain is not usually gain; it is your body communicating injury to you.
Figure 1 shows a safe way to stretch the lower back. Seat yourself in a chair and then bend at the hips as you reach for the floor. Like all stretches hold it for about 10 seconds. When finishing the stretch put your hands on your knees and use your arms to raise your torso safely.
Abdominal muscles can be strengthened by doing crunches (figures 2 and 3). A crunch is the first part of a sit-up, when you first engage your stomach muscles. Note the hands on your chest, not around your head. This is a much safer method for your neck.
Figure 4 shows one way to strengthen lower back muscles. To engage more muscles you can raise both legs, and/or raise your torso up off the ground a few inches.
Engaging any muscle is all that is required to begin strengthening it. For strengthening exercises, either hold the position for ten to twenty seconds, or do a few sets of ten repetitions. The most important point is that you must begin by doing something. You can fine-tune your routine later.