What should I do about my back pain? Probably one of the more common questions we get as physical therapists. First and foremost, know that it is extremely common and most of the time, will resolve on its own.
Maybe it happened when you went heavier in your deadlift last week; maybe when you picked up that box at work that was heavier than expected; heck, maybe it happened when you turned to grab your bag out of the backseat of your car - the same thing you’ve done countless times before. Low back pain (LBP) can sometimes come out of the blue, or with the least expected movement or activity… but man can it be intense!
So, you have this new case of low back pain and aren’t sure what to do. It hurts to stand up straight, it hurts to bend over, it hurts to exercise, maybe it even hurts to breathe. What should you do about it?
First, ask yourself these questions: Do I have tingling, numbness, or weakness into both of my legs? Have I had any changes in my ability to pee or poop? Does my back pain wake me in the middle of the night and not allow me to fall back asleep? If you answered no to those questions, it’s unlikely that you need to be racing to urgent care or requesting x-rays and MRI’s right now - yay!
Second, realize that LBP is SUPER common. Like the most common type of pain reported by patients, with 25% of adults reporting LBP in the last 3 months (CDC, 2020). It costs our healthcare system billions of dollars per year, and forces individuals out of work and away from the activities they love for months or even years.
Okay, you probably don’t care much about that… you HURT! What to do in this moment? It’s important to understand that over 90% of low back pain is benign and most cases resolve on their own over time. Even more important than that, it’s crucial to keep moving and maintain some amount of activity in your every day! Low back pain can be miserable and seem unrelenting; however, this part of our body responds very well to gentle movement and activity. Not only will sprinkling some movement into the spine help, but so will increasing your heart rate and participating in some amount of cardiovascular activity. When we increase our heart rate and get blood flowing through the body, we send nutritional products and oxygen to healing tissues, and we decrease the amount of inflammation here. This can all lead to less pain, improved healing, and to YOU feeling better! Another yay! Brisk walking can be plenty for that heart rate increase if your back pain leaves you feeling like you can’t do more. For some gentle activity and exercise related to low back pain, check out some of our videos on YouTube.
As you recover from this acute back pain, remember that the human body is resilient, it adapts to the stresses placed on it, and is stronger than you think! The thoughts and beliefs about our body influence our pain as well as physical capacity more than we may realize. So next time you hurt, ask yourself the questions above, remember that you are strong and capable, and keep moving!
If you find yourself having a hard time returning to your desired activities, or your back pain seems to be lingering for longer than you’d like, seeking care from a professional can lead to a specific plan for what YOU need.
We’re always here to talk and answer questions. Cheers!
Dr. Elle Carlson