Updated: Mar 23
People with really bad back pain want to know – how do I relieve it as quickly as possible?
Depending on whether the pain is an acute incident or a chronic long-term pain, how to deal with it may differ. I cover off both in the article below.
Lets start with the acute pain – this might be something that comes on really suddenly following an injury or it could be something that happens on occasion – a ‘flare up’ in an existing chronic pain condition. If it is a new injury, it may be appropriate to see a doctor or physiotherapist as soon as possible to ensure anything really serious (e.g. like a fracture) is ruled out. Where this has been ruled out or you’re experiencing a flare up and know it is not a more serious condition, an acute pain incident can be really debilitating.
· Rest – it may be necessary to completely rest, but it is generally advised not to do this beyond the initial 24-48 hour period.
· Movement is generally going to be helpful although it may not feel like that at the time – this could be simple movement such as lying in constructive rest (lying on your back on the floor or on your bed with knees bent and feet flat on the floor) and picking up the feet and bringing knees gently in towards the chest, circling knees around in one direction and then the other for a few minutes.
· Heat pads or heat treatment can be really helpful or other pain reducing options that can help the muscles around the back to relax and stop the muscle spasm that often happens during an acute flare up.
· Breathing practices are something I really recommend – it will help you to refocus away from the pain and also help you to relax, which can help with muscle spasm. I would suggest slow breathing all the way down to the belly, breathing in for between a count of 4 to 6 and then breathing out for between a count of 4 to 6. Try and do this for at least 20 minutes if you can as many times a day as you can during your acute phase.
· Don’t panic – know that becoming fearful, worrying about it or catastrophising is not going to be helpful and can make you more tense and create further pain. You can mentally tell yourself that acute pain does not remain for long, you know it’s nothing serious and you will soon be better – having the right mindset can make a huge difference.
Chronic back pain is something that persists day after day – it’s not the same as an acute incident/flare
up when you may be completely debilitated – but usually enables you to function reasonably normally but something that is there all the time causing you to feel down, helpless and in constant pain. There’s a number of things you can do to help yourself recover more quickly from chronic pain, but know that it may take some time and is a journey. It’s important to know though that unless you have a more serious diagnosis (e.g. fracture, cauda equina syndrome), most chronic back pain conditions can and will get better. The path to recovery:
· Hope and Education – it’s really important to know that most of what you might see on an MRI scan is completely normal and is unlikely to be the cause of your pain. Around 80% of people over the age of 40 will all show spinal degeneration, disc disease, disc bulges, ruptures, protrusions, spinal stenosis etc etc. For most of these people they will not experience any pain. Pain that is being felt is often due to established neural pain pathways that have established themselves and mean the body has become over-sensitised to pain – the pain remains very real, but work to rebalance the nervous system and establish new pain pathways is going to be an important part of the recovery process. A lot of chronic pain is also caused by stress – this is especially true of chronic back pain. I have a lot more information about this in my free Holistic Toolkit guide (see below).
· Gentle Movement Practices – starting to do a gentle movement practice on a regular basis, ideally progressing to doing it daily, makes a huge difference. Picking the right movement practice though is important. Practices that focus on softening and lengthening psoas and piriformis muscles, along with gentle compression and decompression in the back will all be helpful. I have a short video that encompasses some of these in my Holistic Toolkit. Find a teacher who understands back pain and knows what works. I also really recommend breathing practices (see above under acute pain section).
· Mindset – having a mindset that is focused on taking the steps to get better is really important. This can be ensuring that constant negative and fearful thoughts are stopped and more positive, rational thoughts are your mind’s focus. It can be writing down (expressive writing/therapeutic writing) things that you find stressful and making sure you’re not bottling things up. It can be ensuring that you’re not always focused on and talking about your pain. There are a number of tools and practices – they are all focused on re-programming your brain and establishing new pathways to move you away from chronic pain.
· Timescales – it’s important to know that recovering from chronic pain can take time. One person may progress more quickly than another – there are many different factors at play, this could be how long you’ve been in chronic pain for, how much time/effort/energy you’re willing to put into getting better (e.g. daily movement and breathing practices), how easily you can change your mindset and so on. It’s very complex, but know that YOU are the person who can help you recover.
These are just some of the practices and activities that I know work. Having experienced both acute and chronic back pain over a long period of time and having recovered from both, I have spent years working out what does and doesn’t work to enable you to get there more quickly.
If you'd like to try some movement practices that can ease back pain, you may like to try my Back Pain Reduction Series Watch Back Pain Reduction Series Online | Vimeo On Demand on Vimeo
or visit my back care website www.lyndseyhayes.com for more info.