How can I relieve back pain at home?

A common question I’m often asked is "how can I relieve back pain at home?". This often happens when you have an acute flare up and can’t get to see your usual physio or osteopath for a day or so. Or sometimes you may have been having treatment for long-term chronic back pain and it seems much worse one day and you’re wondering what you can do to ease it off.

You may find that applying some heat (heat pad, hot water bottle) to the area can help or some other topical pain killer, but often I used to find these had very little effect. If your pain is acute and you’re bent over in that funny 'S bend' that often happens when ‘your back goes’, you may find that the following suggestions will help a bit more. The same can be true for chronic pain. Often both can be attributed to a spasming or tightening of all the muscles around the spine, and therefore one of the first things I would suggest is seeing if it is possible to find a way for these muscles to relax (this is why heat can often be good to start with).

My preferred way of doing this is to lie on the floor or on a firm bed, with the knees bent and the feet on the floor/bed. This position is sometimes known as ‘constructive rest’. An alternative can be to place a bolster (or if you do not have a bolster, two pillows wrapped in a large towel to create a bolster shape) under the backs of the knees to alleviate weight/pressure in the lower back.

I then work to slow down my breathing, so I have a slow full inhale all the way down into the belly and a slow exhale all the way out. Try and make the length of the inhale and the exhale roughly equal, you could add a count of between 4-6 seconds depending on how easy you find it. The key is slow, even, steady breaths in and out, roughly equal in length. Stay here with slow even breathing in constructive rest for around 10-15 minutes.

After that, see if it’s possible to pick one foot up from the floor/bed and bring the knee in towards the chest. It may not come in that far, but just bring it in as far as is comfortable and gently pulse it in and out. Do this for around 1 minute. Then place the foot back to the floor and swap sides, picking up the opposite foot and bringing the knee in towards the chest, gently pulsing it in and out. Again, after a minute place the foot back down. Continue with the slow breathing for around another minute or two and then if it feels possible pick up both feet from the floor and bring both knees in towards the chest. Resting the hands on the knees or in the crease at the back of the knees, keep the knees together and gently circle the knees around (around the size of a dinner plate). Continue for around a minute and then change direction going the other way for around one more minute. You might also see how it feels after this to rock slowly side to side. Then place both feet back onto the floor and you can either roll off to one side or stay in constructive rest doing the slow even breathing for longer.

The reason why this sequence of breathing and slow, gentle movement can be helpful is because it firstly allows you to begin to relax, gives the muscles in the back a chance to begin to relax/stop spasming and then the gentle movement begins to ease the tension in the relaxing muscles.

Like all movement practices, if this causes your pain to worsen, ease off and just stay in the constructive rest position focusing on the breathing exercise.

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