Nearly 80 percent of people suffer lower-back pain at some point in their adult lives. You may have a nagging stiffness that makes tying your shoes a difficult proposition, or you may have a chronic, debilitating pain that keeps you curled up in bed for weeks at a time.
Although regular workouts (especially abdominal and back exercises) can do a lot to help prevent back pain, fitness activities can also cause back problems, particularly if you do a lot of pounding or use improper form when you run or cycle. You also can wrench your back by failing to bend your legs when you lift a weight off the rack.
Of course, you also can throw out your back by doing completely nonathletic activities, such as improperly lifting a child or a bag of groceries. Always use proper form (lifting and bending with your legs, not your back), when lifting and carrying anything.
In many instances of back pain, the worst thing you can do is just stay in bed. This weakens the very muscles that need to be loosened up and strengthened (and lack of activity may have led to the back pain in the first place). Another time-honored treatment, the heating pad, makes many back conditions worse by further inflaming the nerves.
So what helps back pain heal? Time, for one thing. Many cases of back pain disappear within four weeks without any treatment at all. If that doesn’t work, you can see a variety of professionals. Most experts believe that the majority of back pain is muscular in nature and can be treated successfully with nonsurgical procedures, such as exercise, massage, physical therapy, and chiropractics. (To find a good chiropractor, get a recommendation from a friend, or better yet, from a medical doctor.)
Swimming, walking, and yoga seem to be the best activities for limbering up tight back muscles. Back and abdominal strengthening exercises supervised by a physical therapist or trainer experienced in dealing with back pain can give you long-term immunity from further recurrence of back pain. For an episode you’re having right now, ice and gentle movement are probably your best bet for relief.
If you experience severe back pain that prevents you from going about your normal activities, see your physician first to rule out any underlying medical causes, such as kidney infections or intestinal disorders.