10 Tips for Managing Low Back Pain

Picture of Author: Ruben Salinas, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS

Author: Ruben Salinas, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS

Ruben Salinas is the founder and president of Salinas PT.

It’s estimated that nearly 80% of adults will experience back pain at some point. Poor posture, faulty body mechanics, sedentary lifestyles, and lack of exercise can all contribute to your pain. Sometimes back pain can be more complex when it involves an injury or the degenerative process. Regardless of the cause, you should follow some basic strategies to help manage the pain. 

Managing an Acute Episode

So what should you do if you have an episode of low back pain? Well, there’s no magic bullet since each case is unique. Still, there are several things you can do to allow your back to heal and alleviate the symptoms.

# 1 – Ice & Heat

Ice is commonly known as an analgesic with numbing properties. It can be used when the pain is severe, usually in the first 24 to 48 hours of onset. Icing the injured area immediately after an injury works to constrict blood vessels and reduce pain. With this concept in mind, some studies show that ice comes with downsides. This is where heat becomes beneficial. Heat aids the healing process by increasing blood flow. By adding heat to an injured muscle it dilates and relaxes the blood vessels. This process allows for nutrient-rich blood to enter the affected area and aid with healing as well as reducing soreness.

# 2 – Maintain your Lordosis

Lumbar lordosis, also known as the slight curve in your lower back, must be maintained. This curve helps distribute the upper body’s weight evenly through the pelvis and hips. Pressure on our discs can vary depending on the position of our body as seen below. Slouching or Slumping forward can significantly increase disc pressure and weaken or even strain the supporting structures attempting to heal. As a general rule for managing low back pain, avoid bending and lifting until the pain subsides. Activities like loading a dishwasher, reaching into the fridge, and bending to tie shoe laces are all examples of how our lordosis can be compromised with simple tasks. If you can’t avoid these tasks, aim to bend from the hips rather than the spine. See tip #9  

# 3 – Change Position Frequently

During the acute phase of low back pain, it is vital to change your body’s position often. Adjusting your body can help improve blood flow and reduce muscle tension. Research has shown that individuals are more likely to develop back stiffness and other musculoskeletal disorders from prolonged sitting. You should generally avoid sitting for more than 15 – 30 minutes at a time. 

# 4 – Proper sitting posture

Maintaining your lordosis while sitting is vital during the healing process. You can accomplish this by placing a rolled towel or lumbar support in the small of your back. Compared to standing, sitting increases lumbar disc pressure, which worsens as we begin to slouch. If you are looking at your phone or typing for prolonged periods, it’s likely your body will begin to fatigue and slouching will creep in. Here are 5 basic tips you should keep in mind while sitting:

# 5 – Driving

When your back hurts you should avoid driving long distances if possible. If you must drive, aim to keep your seat close to the steering wheel and use lumbar support to maintain your lordosis. For the best ergonomics, angle your seat between 100 and 110 degrees. Keeping your seat in an upright position minimizes stress on your spinal discs by keeping your spine in a neutral position.

# 6 – Walking 

Walking short distances and keeping your body moving is like adding lubricant to your back. It helps facilitate the body’s natural movement patterns to reduce stiffness. As our body moves, circulation improves, which helps reduce inflammation and pain in the lower back. Walking can also serve as a form of low-impact exercise to to reduce stress and tension often associated with low back pain.

# 7 – Rising from a chair

Standing up from a seated position is challenging when your back hurts. As mentioned before, one of the best ways to minimize aggravating your pain is to maintain your lordosis. This is more easily accomplished by scooting to the front edge of your seat before standing.

# 8 – Practice good body mechanics

Learning how to hinge from your hips and practicing good lifting techniques will allow your body to heal and prevent exacerbating your condition. If lifting cannot be avoided use the following lifting techniques: tips for lifting
  1. Stand close to the load and use a wide stance
  2. Bend at the hips and knees while keeping your back straight
  3. Lift slowly and do not use a jerking motion
  4. Pivot your feet instead if your spine to avoid twisting

# 9 – Coughing and sneezing

Coughing and sneezing can be very painful when your back is flared up. If you need to cough there are two general techniques you can use:
  1.  Lean back and aim to cough toward the ceiling 
  2.  Use support such as a desk or a countertop to minimize the movement of your spine while coughing

# 10 – Staying Active

While it may be tempting to rest and avoid movement when you are experiencing low back pain, staying active will help alleviate some of that pain. Going for short walks, light cycling, or low impact activities like swimming can relieve pain and stiffness. Staying active also helps alleviate pain by improving flexibility, strength, and muscular endurance allowing the best chance for tissues to heal.

In Conclusion:

If your back pain is severe or lasts for more than a week without improvement, seek the help of a healthcare professional. Our doctors of physical therapy can identify the muscular, postural, and skeletal limitations that may be the cause of your pain. We will observe you perform a series of movement patterns, strength tests and gather an account of your daily activity levels and environmental factors that are contributing to your condition. Our therapists will use all of this knowledge to design a personalized program to reduce your symptoms and teach you the strategies to prevent the recurrence of low back pain. In good health. Ruben Salinas, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS