10 Things To Help Low Back Pain At Home

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Too many people with lower back pain rely on others to “fix their back pain” feeling disempowered and wholly dependent on someone else. In reality no-one can fix your back but you. Without your involvement even the greatest treatments will be nothing but short term relief options as you bounce between flare ups. That’s why we’ve put together this concise list of 10 things that you can do at home to help your low back pain recover for good. These are in no particular order, so let’s get into number one.

Sit better & sit less for low back health

The average adult spends 9.5 hours a day sitting down. That’s a lot! For many with back pain, and many without, sitting is placing greater strain on the lower back. This is about as helpful as hopping on a sprained ankle, without bending your knee to absorb the shock… Too many sit with their pelvis tucked into a posterior pelvic tilt, and the lower back flattened into the back of the chair. This is compressing the front of the disc driving stretch through the back. Over time (20 minutes of static stretch) the ligaments of the disc and surrounding vertebra stretch and this creates weakness and vulnerabilities. Think about the last time your back went, was it doing something seemingly irrelevant after a bout of long sitting – it is the case for so many and that is why!

Instead opt for limited durations of sitting, fidget and redistribute your weight in your chair, or better yet, switch from sitting to standing if you have the luxury of a sit-to-stand desk.

When you are sitting, do so with good posture, in a supported chair, with a small towel rolled up and placed in the natural arc of the lower back. This helps block the “flattening” of your lower back into the chair. 

Move your body more in small amounts to keep your back happy

There is a phrase, “motion is lotion” and small amounts are the best. Being mobile plays a great role in preventing too much inflammation building up in the lower back. Aside from the initial injury whereby you “tore” part of the disc or ligaments and felt immediate pain, much of the pain you feel in the back, or sciatica, is down to a minor re-aggravation and then too much inflammation building in a small space. Little bits of movement such as the small changes in your spine as going for a short 5 minute walk outside or around the house, can really help prevent the build up of inflammation reaching critical levels. This “pressure” build up in your back aggravates the nerves and gives you that aching feeling in the low back or hips. This happens because your body is diverting fluid to the injured area, just like a wrist that swells up at a minor sprain, your lower back is doing the same. The only difference is that your lower back has MUCH LESS SPACE and doesn’t have stretchy soft tissues that will easily accommodate this influx, instead you have small bony holes which do not stretch!

Do your best to keep mobile, it may well be sore immediately after a period of inactivity or stillness, this is normal. But if you do move slowly and carefully you’ll find yourself better off for it!

Contrast therapy for your lower back inflammation

Too many people use heat for the low back because it feels nice and they think the issue is a muscle problem, it’s not. Ice is instead much better, as it helps manage the excess inflammation, which we just discussed is an issue! 

We typically recommend doing the icing for about 3 to 5 minutes 3 times a day or more if you’re particularly sore. 

What’s better than icing though, is contrast therapy. This is where we alternate hot and cold in quick succession, 5 minutes of each back to back, two or three times in a row. This can also be done 3 or more times per day. If you want to give this a go, check out the recent video we did: Step by step guide to contrast therapy for lower back pain, it will walk you through the steps and location placement.

This works particularly well for those with degenerative disc disease or spinal arthritis, or any condition in the lower back that causes spinal stenosis. Stenosis means “narrowing” and so inflammation building up in the lower back will more quickly reach levels which lead to pain and symptoms.

Learn about a neutral spine for a balanced lower back

People spend a lot of time thinking about the “core strength” which is important, but they learn to strengthen their core by violating the principles of a neutral spine by doing movements such as the pelvic tuck or pelvic tilt. This is very common in activities like yoga or pilates classes.

Your lower back should have a natural arc to it, this is the natural “lordosis” and is the normal position for a human spine in the standing position. The job of your core is to be able to brace and protect this position, in order to bear load and so the torso and trunk can be “stiff” so the powerful hips and shoulders have an anchor point for their action. This for example is how a sprinter will drive themselves down a 100m track, or how you will lift your shopping out the car, without your back bending like a wet noodle. 

Learning to maintain your neutral spinal position will help you protect your lower back from the silly little movements that are so frequently the cause of the flare ups you experience in your lower back pain. By avoiding these simple flare ups you give your back a chance to gather some “healing momentum”. We often recommend members use a small towel to remind them of this natural curve when doing some of the floor based core exercises in the early part of the “Back In Shape Program”. It makes a huge difference!

Keep your hips mobile, but don’t obsess over stretching

Mobile hips play a vital role in your lower back health for short, medium and long term, but too many suffering from lower back pain obsess over stretching. This is a mistake. As your back injury heals and you get stronger, you will find that your hips naturally get more mobile and the stiffness gets less, later on in the recovery process, some targeted stretching can be used to make objective increases inflexibility where flexibility is objectively lacking. However avoid falling into the trap of stretching because you “feel tight” or “stiff” often this feeling is “dysfunction” of the muscle because the origins of that muscle control stems from the lower back that is sending signals there. 

Forcing stretching is one of the main mistakes many people make before they join the program, yes we will work your hip mobility to improve in time, because it takes pressure off the back, but there are other focuses in the short term that make stretching more effective later, strengthening being the big example!

Strengthening is always better than stretching for low back pain

In the vast majority of cases this is true. It can be the exception in the elite power lifter or incredibly strong individual, but these are not the ones usually “over stretching” themselves. Strengthening brings with it stability, and protection for the lower back. It allows you to move more effortlessly, and build control and balance, so you’re a more “stable person”. 

For example, many lack the strength and coordination to do simple squat or lunge movements, without their back wobbling all over the place. This wreaks havoc for a lower back that is trying to heal. As you build strength in the legs, hips, back and core, your movements become better, your muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones become stronger and more resilient. You then find you have the strength to move through fuller ranges of motion, and your flexibility improves naturally. 

This is because your muscles feel more comfortable with the movement, they don’t need to lock up to stop you going too low on the squat. Strength brings control, control brings protection, the combination brings healing and your back pain gets better!

The towel and bed decompression stretches for lower back pain

The use of the towel decompression and bed decompression stretches is one for life. Too many see “decompression stretches” which actually round the back more and are actually detrimental instead of helpful. The towel and bed decompression observe the principles of a neutral spine and gently unload the spine in a safe and controlled way, plus everyone can do them!

Consider these two a “spine hygiene practice”, taking pressure off your injured lower back and creating a gentle pumping movement to help the discs and build up off excess inflammation. You can check out a short video we did on three decompression stretches for lower back pain for step-by-step demonstrations too.

Whether it is the strain and compression of daily life, or your necessary exercises, these stretches can be done for the lower back for 3-5 minutes at a time, a few times a day. For example, after a workout as you progress your rehab, or after a day’s work or long drive.

A healing diet for lower back pain

Healing is a process like a house renovation, yes there is the healing of the injury itself, but also there is the rebuilding and strengthening process. We are not made out of thin air, we need resources. As an example, a 1 year old will generally need about 1,000kcals per day to fuel their growth and development. The average adult typically will be recommended about 2,000 kcals.

This is to say, growth or “regeneration” is an expensive process, the body needs to expend energy to rebuild itself, and it needs the resources to do this! Protein is one such resource that is in high demand on account of the simple fact that the things we are trying to heal are made out of collagen. Now that’s not to say that vitamins and minerals aren’t important, they are, but one thing we have seen in too many cases, is people with long standing lower back pain not eating like they want to recover! 

We discussed the best supplement for lower back pain in an old podcast episode, and covered this from another view point in a recent book review of “Forever Strong” by Dr Gabrielle Lyon. Further reading in this arena is definitely recommended and will be transformative for your lower back recovery process.

Get some expert support for your lower back if you’re struggling

At the end of the day, if you are struggling there are always those that can help you, whether you’re near to our Cheltenham HQ and want to pop by the Back In Shape Studio for back pain treatment, want support online through means of membership to the Back In Shape Program, there are people out there who can help you recover from back pain with a little more structure and support along the way.

Treatments, like the great ones we have gathered, or a complete program, can make a huge difference, but you must still do the work at home alongside these options as we discussed at the outset today. 

Finally, Expect bumps in the road and setbacks, embrace them

As strange as it may sound after all this, you will get setbacks and flare ups, it happens to everyone with lower back pain. One of the main reasons for this is that we simply cannot fully protect your lower back whilst it is its most vulnerable. It’s not like a broken wrist or leg, you don’t have a spare lower back that you can use while this one heals. So you have to learn on the go, and use it while it’s trying to heal. 

Especially in the early days, flare ups, and setbacks are inevitable and part of the process. Use them as learning experiences, to improve the way you do things, be this day-to-day living, or specific exercise technique, doing so in an intelligent way will lead to a longer and more lasting recovery! 
This is one of the reasons support for our members of the Back In Shape Program is such a vital part of the process, we help them in our private group every day and every week on live coaching calls and Q&A sessions. Little bits of guidance and support help you navigate the setbacks, and celebrate the successes. It teaches you when to push on and when to take a moment to reassess. So if you are struggling with your lower back pain, put the practices we’ve discussed in place immediately, and if you want a little more support in the rehab department with a program that will help support you with education, exercises and moment-to-moment guidance, then check out membership to Back In Shape today.

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