Chances are you’ve experienced back pain at some point in your life. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Americans have lower back pain, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. And while your chances of having more severe or frequent back pain increases as you get older, there are some things you can do to ease pain now.
We spoke with Woosik Chung, MD, a spine and orthopedic surgeon with Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, for the best back pain remedies you can try today.
Start stretching. If you have lower back pain, Dr. Chung suggests trying a hamstring stretch to prevent acute flare ups: Sit down and extend one leg in front of your body, lean forward until you feel a stretch in the hamstring and repeat with the other leg. Here are more tips to help you get started.
Work it out. If you’re looking for a good workout that’ll also help reduce back pain, Chung suggests isometric strengthening exercises. “For example, if you’re doing crunches, tense your abs, count to ten and then relax it and repeat,” he says. These slight, repetitive and targeted movements help strengthen the core muscles so they can better support your back.
If you want to mix in some cardiovascular work, Chung suggests swimming. “It’s a great form of exercise for the lower back and neck. . . You’re working against the gentle resistance of the water, which will strengthen your core as well.”
Apply ice or heat. If you just finished a workout that’s causing your back to ache, or you’re experiencing a flare up, apply ice for about 30 minutes. “It’s going to cool down the inflammation,” says Chung. Ice can also be a preventative measure. “I tell my patients to apply ice after a workout even if they’re not feeling sore,” he adds. Heat is a better option later in the day when you want the back muscles to relax. And, there’s nothing wrong with a topical cream like Icy Hot, says Chung, so long as it provides the relief you need.
Indulge in a massage. A deep tissue or sports massage may allow your muscles to recover from a good workout session or a long day at work, says Dr. Chung. Massages have also been proven to reduce pain symptoms in people with low back pain. Learn more about the benefits of massage.
Try a pain reliever. Sometimes ice or heat simply won’t cut it, and that is when Chung suggests taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like aspirin or ibuprofen. And while NSAIDs may seem harmless, Chung warns that you should talk to your healthcare provider before taking them so that you’re aware of any possible side effects or drug interactions—especially if you’re on blood thinners.
Get more restful sleep. If you have back pain, you may want to check your mattress. In fact, a good mattress is more important than your sleeping position, says Chung. If your mattress isn’t the problem, consider adding an extra pillow to your bed. “If you’re a side sleeper, placing a pillow between your legs may help equalize the pressure on the spine,” he says. If you sleep on your back, try adding a pillow under your knees to ease any tension, Chung suggests.