Sasha’s back hurt so badly she couldn’t even bend over to put her foot into her pant legs without extreme pain.
Sitting was difficult and standing wasn’t much better. Even lying down failed to bring relief. The pain often kept her up at night.
Finally it got so bad Sasha went to see her doctor, who recommended a cortisone shot. That did the trick and for a while she felt better. The pain eventually came back. It always did.
Sasha’s story is not unique. Low back pain is one of the most common chronic pain ailments in the U.S. Whether it is from an injury, a physically demanding job or simply a by-product of too much sitting, many of us are hurting.
Injection shots can help, temporarily, but are not a long term solution. Prescription pain meds come with their own side effects and problems.
If you, like Sasha, are in pain, what can you do to find relief?
Many people fear exercise because they think it will make back pain worse. This was the case for Sasha. But she had tried so many other things, and nothing worked. So she was willing to see if exercise could be what she was missing.
Over time, movement and exercise can help alleviate back pain, and prevent it from happening in the future. However, there is a right and a wrong way. Below are four ways to improve back pain without drugs or surgery. They worked for Sasha, and they can work for you.
(Before I go any further, let me preface this by saying if you have back pain you need to see a doctor and/or Physical Therapist who can help you determine the potential cause of your pain, and rule out any other serious or underlying issue.)
- Avoid crunches, sit-ups and other “core” exercises which require you to excessively flex (round) your spine. Especially avoid doing these exercises with weight, such as holding a medicine ball. Instead, do planks, hollow holds, dead bugs and other exercises which keep your spine flat.
- Avoid excessive twisting and rotational exercises, like seated twists. Instead, do side planks and anti-rotation moves like these and weighted carries like this.
- Foam roll and stretch often, daily if possible. Often back pain is caused by tightness in other places, like the hips. Foam rolling alleviates tension in the muscles and stretching helps to keep your muscles lengthened. If you have back pain, tight muscles are your nemesis. (You can get a foam roller here.)
- Utilize massage for extra relief. Research has found regular massages are more effective than surgery for treating many people’s back pain. Regular visits are best, so aim for at least once or twice a month with a qualified professional. (Here’s the one I recommend.)
- Try to avoid sitting for extended periods of time. Sitting is truly bad for the body. Many of us work at a desk, hunched over a computer screen with bad posture. Over time that really takes a toll on your spine. Set a timer and be sure to get up from your desk and walk around at least once an hour.
When you’re in pain, it can really affect your quality of life. It can make you angry, frustrated and fatigued. But there is hope.
Many people find relief from chronic low back pain by incorporating the right kind of exercise (work with a knowledgable professional), regular stretching and foam rolling as well as massage therapy, walking more and sitting less.
Imagine being able to go to the gym, walk with your kids or sit on an airplane without hurting.
That’s been the result for Sasha. She feels stronger and more confident, too now that she’s strength training regularly and building a solid foundation. She’s learned how to keep her body feeling good and only occasionally has back pain. It no longer keeps her up at night and she can put her pants on standing on one leg.
Rather than suffering in pain or popping pills, try these methods and you’re likely to see at least some improvement to low back pain.