Your back is incredibly versatile. As children, we twist and tumble, roll and romp, without thinking twice about the fragility of our spine and its surrounding muscles. As adults, we continue to take our backs for granted. We sit for hours at a time, which is extremely hard on the back. We also use our backs to lift everything from bricks to clinging children or pets, often from awkward positions. Eventually, of course, things start going wrong.
Back injuries take a staggering toll in society, accounting for many missed days of work and millions of dollars in lost productivity. Eighty per cent of adults fall prey to back pain at least once, and many people get it again and again.
While some back problems are serious, the vast majority can be treated at home. Here’s what you can do to get “back” in action.
Take three days of R & R . Most back problems will go away if the injured muscles, ligaments, and tendons have time to heal. Spend a few days in bed if you’re having more than mild pain. But don’t lie around longer than that unless your doctor says to. Constant bed rest weakens muscles, which can make the pain worse. Doctors usually recommend resting for a few days, then slowly returning to your regular routine. If it still hurts, go back to bed for a day or two. And be sure to take frequent rest breaks while you’re healing.
Cool it. Several times a day, apply packs of ice wrapped in towels to your painful areas for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, and repeat this several times a day. Applying cold can help relieve the swelling that often accompanies back pain.
Then warm it up. When the worst pain has died down, usually in a few days, change your treatment from cold to hot. Use a heating lamp, a hot water bottle, or a heating pad wrapped in a towel. Apply heat for fifteen to twenty minutes several times a day. This will, help improve circulation and allow the injury to heal more quickly.
Take over-the counter relief . Aspirin, ibuprofen, and other anti-inflammatory, pain-killing medications can be very helpful for soothing back pain. Acetaminophen or paracetamol can also help relieve pain. It does not work for inflammation, however, so it’s not always as effective as aspirin or ibuprofen.
Have a rubdown . A gentle massage can be a great strategy for easing back pain. Massage improves circulation, helps eliminate lactic acid and other chemical wastes from the muscles, and may help relieve muscle spasm.
Take away stress. Stress doesn’t cause back pain, but it can make the pain worse by causing muscles throughout your body to contract and tighten, it’s hard to feel relaxed when your back is killing you, but there are ways to feel a little less stressed. Begin by breathing deeply for fifteen or twenty minutes. Taking slow, deep breaths floods the body with oxygen, which will help you feel calmer and help the muscles relax. While you’re lying around, plug in a good movie. Anything you can do to distract yourself will help those tender muscles in your back to relax.
Give it time . Most back pain subsides within two weeks, and up to 90 per cent of all cases get better within six weeks. No one enjoys feeling under the weather that long, but getting impatient won’t make you get better any faster, and it may make your pain worse.
Train your back . One of the best ways to prevent pain in the future is to train your back to be ache resistant. This means strengthening your back muscles and improving your overall flexibility. Doctors usually advise people with back pain to embark on a regular exercise program, including lifting weights, to tone the muscles so they are better able to support the spine. Consult a doctor before beginning, however.
Flex yourself healthy. Flexibility is crucial for preventing backaches. Keeping your back limber means you’ll be able to do all the things you enjoy – like working in the garden, bowling, or dancing up a storm – without getting tied up in knots later. A trainer at a health club or a community center can teach you simple stretches that you can do for just few minutes a day. Or you may get more ambitious and take up an entire flexibility program, such as yoga or even modern dance.
Learn how to lift . Whether you’re picking up your socks or hefting a fifty-pound sack, always lift by bending your knees and letting the muscles in your legs support the burden. Your leg muscles are large and stronger than the muscles along your lower back, and they’re better able to withstand the strain. Always make sure your footing is firm, and never jerk or lunge to lift something. Lifting slowly and carefully will still get the job done, with a lot less risk of injury.
Sleep with your back in mind . You won’t do your back a lick of good if you pamper it by day, only to ambush it at night. Make sure you mattress is firm, not sagging and soft. Make sure your mattress is firm, not sagging and soft. Sleep on your side with your knees bent and a pillow between them. If you sleep on your back, put a small pillow under your knees. Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
Protect your feet. Good shoes act like shock absorbers, reducing jolts to your back when you’re walking or running. Wear shoes that fit properly, are in good condition (not too worn), and are designed for walking. Try to resist fashion ads that insist you must wear high heels. These are the worst shoes you can wear for back health. Stick to well-cushioned low heels or flats.
Improve your standing in life . Perfect posture isn’t just for armed service personnel or for law enforcement officers. Perfect posture – or at least improved posture – is for anyone who wants to avoid the agony of a backache. In fact, many cases of backache stem from bad posture habits: too much slouching or leaning too far back can cause your back’s natural supports to weaken. Here’s what doctors recommend for picture perfect posture.
Standing: imagine a string is connected to the top of your skull and is pulling your body upright. Your head should be upright with your chin slightly tucked in, so that your ears are over your shoulders. Your shoulders should be held back and level, with your back straight. Your stomach and buttocks should be tucked in.
Sitting : sit upright, avoiding the natural tendency to slouch. Whenever possible, sit in chairs that provide good lower-back support. Or you can add a little support by slipping a pillow or a rolled-up towel between your back and the back of the chair. Your upper body should be straight. Your thighs should be level, and your feet should be firmly on the floor.
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