Everyday tips to reduce back pain

October 2, 2015

Pain is inevitable. Chronic, debilitating pain is not. No matter what your age, health, or situation, there are always solutions to treating ongoing pain. Follow these basic steps to help strengthen your back and reduce pain.

Everyday tips to reduce back pain

1. Get up and move

Once, experts (as well as know-it-all relatives) said that bed rest was best for bad backs. Not anymore. Study after study shows that movement helps keep muscles supple and boosts circulation, bringing oxygen and nutrients to heal strained spots. Don't expect to play tennis tomorrow; do expect that after a brief rest, you'll rise and go about as much of your daily routine as possible, taking it as easy as you need to.

2. Find time for relaxing stretches such as yoga

Many of us unconsciously hold years of tension in our upper and lower backs. There's some evidence that mental stress can cause physical stress that could push back muscles past the tipping point, leading to pain. If chronic stress is tensing you up, you need regular doses of healing stretches. Yoga is the perfect form, but regular, slow stretching will work fine, too. Better yet, don't let anger, frustration, and other strong emotions affect your physical well-being.

3. Walk while you talk on the phone

In one University of California, Los Angeles, study of 681 people with lower-back pain, those who walked briskly for three hours a week felt better physically and mentally, while those who performed regular back exercises had more pain. Movement of any kind improves the flow of oxygen and nutrients to muscles and redistributes the gel inside the shock-absorbing disks that cushion your vertebrae. In contrast, sitting allows the gel to squash to one side or the other, leaving you with uneven cushioning between the joints of your spine.

4. If you're sitting, take a stretch break every 20 minutes

Sitting still for hours deprives your back muscles of oxygen and nutrients, allowing the disks between your vertebrae to bulge if you're not using perfect posture. Over time, muscles grow tight, and a bulging disk can press on nerves, causing pain.

5. Then stretch and strengthen

Add stretching and gentle strengthening exercises, too. After a few weeks, start doing easy abdominal exercises. These strengthen your core — the "inner corset" of muscles that steady your spine. (Go easy on back exercises, though. One study found that walking provided more relief.) Aim to exercise for a half hour five days a week — whether you walk, swim, or do aerobics or another activity you like.

6. Use a commonsense approach to pain relievers

These drugs aren't recommended for people who take a daily low-dose aspirin for heart protection, have stomach ulcers, or are at risk for heart problems. If you don't fit any of those categories, taking an non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for a few days, using the lowest dose that works for you, is usually safe and can help reduce the swelling and inflammation of arthritis.

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