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Self Care for Back Pain

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 5 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
Self Care Lower Back Pain Chronic

Chronic back pain is a problem that affects around 67 million people in Europe at any one time. It is the biggest single cause of people being off work and accounts for millions of pounds in lost productivity every year. More than eight out of every ten people suffer from back pain at some time in their lives; this can be short-term, or it can become recurrent and chronic.

Because so many people are affected by lower back pain, this also places a large burden on our healthcare system in the UK. Many appointments at GP’s surgeries are taken up by people suffering with their back – but many of these appointments are not really necessary. By evaluating your own back pain and practising good self care when your back flares up, it is possible to ease your symptoms and recover well, without the need to see a doctor.

Signs that Back Pain Needs Medical Treatment

That said, it is important to recognise when you should consult a professional. If your back pain has come on suddenly and is associated with a specific event, such as a fall, a car or bike accident, or after you have lifted something very heavy, severe back pain should be checked out. It may be that the structures in the spine or backbone have been damaged and this may need emergency treatment.

If you have pain that travels down one of your legs, or both, or you have numbness in your legs, back pain may be connected with vertebral disc damage or disease, so again, it is best to find out what the problem is. If at any time your back pain is associated with a loss of control of your bladder or bowels, this is also likely to be serious. Kidney problems can sometimes cause lower back pain, and there may well be other symptoms, such as passing blood in the urine, or running a high temperature.

When you can Self Care for Back Pain

If you have slept awkwardly, turned suddenly, picked up something not too heavy and then your back has gone into a spasm and is very sore, it is likely that you have just pulled a muscle. This can be painful and, because the back protects itself by inducing strong muscular spasms, moving around can be difficult. You may not be able to carry on with usual activities – driving can be difficult – but you don’t necessarily need to see your doctor unless the pain and immobility.

How to Self Care

Although the advice for chronic back pain used to be to rest, doctors now advise that you should keep as mobile as possible, without jarring your back further. Gentle walking can help prevent you stiffening up and you should avoid sitting in the same position for long periods, particularly in a chair that does not support your lower back.

Taking pain killers is a good idea, particularly if they also have an anti-inflammatory action. This will help to ease the soreness and will also reduce the inflammation and muscle spasms over the next few days. Gentle stretching and bending exercises to maintain a good range of movement are also helpful. You can also try applying either an ice pack (or a pack of frozen peas) or a hot water bottle to your lower back, as this can help ease immediate discomfort.

Many instances of chronic back pain stem from incorrect lifting. If you need to lift something, make sure that you have both feet firmly on the ground, knees bent your back straight. Of course, it is not a good idea to lift at all while your back is injured or you still feel it could ‘go’ at any moment, but once you have recovered, you may avoid further problems using a better lifting technique.

Proactive Care of Your Back

Once the pain has started to ease and you start to get back to normal, you might need to think about regular exercises to strengthen your back muscles or to improve your posture. Most of us sit in a chair or stand at work without a thought for our posture or position. Improving your office chair, learning how to stand properly and taking up something like yoga and pilates can be very beneficial. For chronic back pain that doesn’t need medical treatment, your GP may recommend a chiropractor or physiotherapy.

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