Managing Chronic Back Pain: Lifestyle Changes and Self-Care Strategies for Long-Term Relief

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Living with chronic back pain can feel like a never ending battle. It can infiltrate every aspect of your life, turning a simple task into a major challenge. What if we told you that it is possible to reclaim your life from the clutches of chronic back pain? This article will give you a comprehensive guide to managing chronic back pain, with lifestyle changes & self care strategies for long-term relief. We’ll explore everything from understanding the root causes of your back pain, the role of physical activity and necessary lifestyle changes, to the influence of diet and psychological factors and more.

Whether you’re newly diagnosed, or like many of our members and have been battling back pain for years, we have a wealth of information today to help you alleviate discomfort and improve your quality of life. Let’s take the first step together on this journey to wellness, towards a life where pain does not dictate your daily activities. If you’re ready to turn a page and start a new chapter in your back health then keep reading. Your guide to mastering chronic back pain management begins here. 

Understanding Chronic Back Pain

To properly manage chronic back pain it is vital to first understand what we are dealing with. It’s more than just an occasional ache, it is a persistent pain that lasts 12 weeks or longer. Often this is present long after we would expect the initial injury to have healed. But why does it persist? Let’s dive into the causes and mechanisms of chronic back pain.

Unfortunately back pain is one of those injuries that can often creep on slowly over many years, practices and habits creep into our daily lives that create a scenario where our back begins to become overworked and under conditioned, a statement that sounds somewhat contradictory at first sight. What we mean by this is that the muscular system from sedentary life gradually wastes away with many who suffer with back pain not partaking in the sorts of regular practice that preserves a strong body and low back in particular. At the same time as this degradation is taking place, the low back is subject to consistent increased load through slouching postures and extended periods of sitting with little room to breathe and move around. As we’ve mentioned many times before there is a consistent assault of flexion on the lower back.

It is important to recognise that this is happening at the same time as other habits are being developed. From the way we move and the way we get out of chairs, to the way we lift or put on our shoes. Many of these habits put further strain through the lower back and are done in ways that strain the back through that same rounding motion. The problem with these habits is that they can be passed over as inconsequential when we have no back “injury”. But when we do eventually push things too far and have what might amount to a minor back injury, let us say a low grade disc bulge or ligament strain, they become a big problem. 

These daily patterns reinforce and reproduce the very strain that has taken place in the lower back and serve as a mechanism to ensure improper healing takes place. What’s worse is that these habits are so hardwired into us that we are not even aware they’re a problem.

As a result of an injury that should recover normally never does, it’s worth noting all tissues will heal given the time and resources. The problem is that healing here is interfered with every single day. Remember when you were young and told not to pick the scab on your knee or it will leave a scar!? 

Well what is a scar? 

Poorly healed tissue. It’s not elastic like the normal tissue and it doesn’t have the same qualities. It’s substandard, and we can see the difference. Well the same sort of thing happens in your lower back. 

From repeatedly insulting tissues that are trying to heal you interfere with the healing process and therefore a good healing process does not fully occur. This could be made even worse when choosing bad exercises such as the commonly prescribed knee hugs. More often than not, this is inappropriate and only serves to reinforce the forward bending that led to the issue.

This is why chronic back pain occurs. Before we get into the rest of the post here’s a quick review of the key reasons why chronic back pain occurs:

  1. We lack acceptable physical conditioning.
  2. We have bad daily habits, for example, the average adult spends 9.5 hours per day sitting down.
  3. We are chronically assaulting our lower back with bad daily habits for years before our back injury.
  4. The bad habits are done on autopilot.
  5. We often get incorrect exercises prescribed in the first instance, for example, knee hugs.
  6. Points 1 to 5 mean that healing cannot take place effectively and gather any momentum without regular disruption.
  7. Our acute back injury becomes chronic as we move past the 12 week mark.

Lifestyle Changes For Back Pain Relief

As you’ve probably guessed by now, your lifestyle has a huge impact on the presence and persistence of chronic back pain. We’ve said this many times before, chronic back pain is a you problem, it is how you have used your body, and continue to use your body on a daily basis. The challenge is often that you’re simply blindsided by things that make your back worse because you’re just not aware of these things. 

Simple things such as having a healthy body weight, having good posture and modification of the way you use your body on a daily basis can all make a significant improvement. If you could catch and change all these things in one day it would make a night and day difference. The reality is with the right guidance you will steadily begin to make changes to the way you do everyday activities. 

For starters, the fact that you probably spend too much time sitting every day. This is a major source of strain on the lower back discs and ligaments in particular. Working to change your workstation to a standing or preferably sit-stand station can break up the repetitive strain on your low back.

Next you could consider a variety of household chores that involve bending over, when required to go low to the ground, learn to take a knee and bend from the hip joints with a neutral spine. It sounds silly and chances are you’re lacking both the strength and flexibility to do this correctly right now. That’s ok, but it is something that you should be working on, seriously.

Another simple activity that subtly strains the low back is activities that involve a slight forward posture, this includes: ironing, peeling potatoes, cooking over the stove, washing up. These positions have you in a set position for long periods where the load and strain is magnified in your low back. This is one of the cases where it might actually be better to either break up the activity or even sit for a few moments to do some of the preparation in the case of preparing vegetables for cooking.

The biggest problem with these factors is that they’re just not considered, as we’ll touch on later, there is a psychological component to low back pain, especially when it is chronic. All too often people get very depressed thinking there is “no reason” why these flare ups keep happening but they fail to consider all these little things that have a cumulative effect, especially on weakened injured tissue that is trying to heal. Just acknowledging there is a cause can really help!

How Nutrition Affects Chronic Back Pain

Diet is what we fuel our body with and what we choose to put in the body can have a positive impact or a negative one. In many cases there is excess inflammation in the low back and diet has long been known to impact levels of inflammation. Granted when it comes to inflammation and diet, this could be considered a smaller dial to turn for benefit when it comes to chronic back pain.

It certainly is worth looking into your sugar intake in particular as so many do find that high levels of sugar have an effect of increasing their levels of inflammation and pain. 

In addition to this however, simple things, such as proper hydration are important. Are you providing your body with sufficient fluids, excluding coffee and tea every day? Evaluate this honestly. 

Another simple area to look at would be junk food. We all like the occasional indulgence but when we’re trying to heal, especially if we’re in a position where our body is not healing properly, why waste money on junk food. Whole, real foods are the way to go and it doesn’t have to break the bank either. In many ways you’re saving money as fueling your body with real food instead of processed junk will save you thousands in medical bills and add years back onto your life! 

We discussed in detail one of the most important back health nutrients when it comes to recovering from back pain and that includes chronic back pain. This would be protein. Everything that is trying to happen when your body heals NEEDS PROTEIN it is used in the regeneration process, it is required for the strengthening process and without it would be like trying to build a house without bricks. Make sure you are getting enough protein to help support your back pain recovery.

Psychological Factors Affecting Your Chronic Low Back Pain

When back pain gets to the point it is chronic, it often comes with a psychological toll too. This is often because you feel that nothing can be done and that the medical system has failed you. What we’ve found over the years, is that a major source of psychological stress is the lack of control you feel you have over your back pain, but this can be turned around when the person feels they have an understanding and a plan going forwards that makes sense. This is one of the reasons we make a point of encouraging all our members of the program to engage in the group and the support we offer members every single week. Being part of a community and knowing you’ve got someone qualified to lean on from time to time can really help pull you out of a dark place and get you moving toward being back pain free.

There is a phrase that springs to mind here that highlights the psychological power perfectly. 

“The man who thinks he can, and the man who thinks he cannot are usually both right”.

A belief that nothing will help can often ensure nothing does. The power of a phenomenon called nocebo is real and in recent years has garnered more and more research, proving the incredibly powerful effect of a negative outlook. Stress and overwhelming challenges that a person may face that drives them towards this negative outlook can really make life doubly hard and this is something that we should do our best to be aware of. 

The good news is the opposite, is true too, and the positivity can become infectious as well. We have had so many members and patients over the years and we’ve regularly come across some real stars, those who have been dealt the worst hand, they’ve got every reason to give up and feel sorry for themselves but they keep pushing forwards and making steady progress. On the other side we see individuals with pain or an injury that might well be bad, but we wonder to ourselves, if only they could speak to member X or member Y, they’d have a whole new perspective on things and realise they’re the lucky one and if they only turned their mindset around they could get results so easily.

It is such a frustration, and shows just how powerful the mind really is. 

We see this again in the presence of outside stress, people often ask if stress has an impact on back pain, of course it does. Back pain itself can be a source of stress, but outside sources of stress can also impact our back pain and its recovery. Without going into real depth, stress serves a purpose in the short term to divert resources to support fight or flight.  Note, it does not support healing, in fact the processes that are in place to help us heal will be “shut down” during this heightened stress for obvious reasons. Now imagine your chronic stress and how that could impact your body’s ability to heal. 

The Role Of Activity In Chronic Back Pain

As if it wasn’t already obvious, regular physical activity that is purposeful can play a vital role in recovering from a chronic back injury. Due to the nature of this, these processes do not complete overnight. Working with resistance training in particular, that is stage appropriate, like we do in the program, is essential to recovering from back pain. There are a number of benefits and mechanisms of action, but here are some of them.

Having A Short Term Relief Plan

The benefits of having a short term plan of exercises and practices to help alleviate strain in the area of the low back is really important as it offers practical relief but also the mental support that there is a “thing” that you can “do” to provide relief.

Having A Long Term Strategy

This is fundamentally a program to take you from chronic back pain to making serious “life changing” improvement. Knowing that there is a course of action you can follow again reinforces that psychological component mentioned earlier, giving you back the control and the power to change.

Transforming Your Body & Back

Going through strengthening work literally transforms your body, remember we mentioned in the earlier part of this post about the inadequate conditioning of so many with back pain that’s chronic. This serves to remedy this fact by rebuilding strength and support for the back so it can heal properly in the first instance but strengthen too. In many cases building to a point that is stronger than the back and body has been in many years!

Decreased Vulnerability

By transforming your body, you decrease the likelihood of everyday activities exceeding your competence and re-injuring your back, or any other area for that matter. Flare ups and relapses become less and less likely as you progress with the right resistance exercises. 

Effortless Living

Ultimately, the effort you have to exert is much less compared with your capacity. The activities of daily living become relatively easier as you strengthen. This is compounded by the fact you’re likely moving more effectively, and with more muscular control and movement skill. Simple movements like getting out of a chair (a squat) and going up stairs (a lunge) are no longer activities that could be problematic for your back. 

Professional Support And Guidance

We created Back In Shape to make sure that not only do you have a great program to follow, with a tremendous amount of education to empower you, but you also have a community of others just like you as well as our team there to help you. Chronic back pain will have many facets, but believe it or not many people with chronic back pain have the same sort of issues, the same sort of areas that need working on and the same sort of challenges that blind side their progress. 

Yes… Even you. 

There might be some details that are present for you that are not for another, but with support you can work those out and move forwards. If you’re struggling with your own chronic back pain and want to start making things better instead of treading water, check out the link below and we look forward to welcoming you as a member soon.

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  1. What a great podcast. I had decompression surgery about 7 weeks ago and was beginning to wonder if things would ever improve. Now I realise that it will take time plus a positive attitude.Would you advise using a teeter at this stage post surgery?
    Thanks for all your help.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Nigel. These things take time but so long as you’re doing the right rehab work they will rebuild. Remember that surgery is essentially a wound in many ways so there is no shortcut to the body actually healing. The teeter done GENTLY would be worth trying but nowhere near full inversion, maybe just beyond flat would be a good test – and of course by this point you should be making progress through the program exercises (Phase 2/3/4 etc as appropriate)

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