9 Ways to ease back pain
Whether your joints creak, your back aches, or you have a condition that causes chronic pain, here are some proven ways to feel good again.
1. Keep moving
The worst thing you can do for most cases of back pain is to take to your bed and stay there.
Walking, riding a stationary bike, and swimming are all strengthening activities that keep healing blood flow to your back. Working with a physical therapist to set up a routine will protect you from overdoing it.
2. Say “ohhmmm”
Meditating can do more for low back pain in older adults than any over-the-counter medication.
In a study published in the journal Pain, 37 adults age 65 and older who joined a mindfulness-based meditation program improved their scores on an objective pain scale. Look for a class at a local health or community centre.
Read more: A beginner's guide to meditation
3. Lighten your load
Carrying an overstuffed handbag slung on one shoulder is a leading cause of back and neck pain for many women because it pulls the body out of alignment.
One doctor, tired of hearing his patients complain about neck pain, started weighing their handbags and found that many tipped the scales at 7 to 10 pounds.
If you must carry a lot of stuff, use a backpack to evenly distribute the weight.
4. Hit the pool
If you have access to a pool, spend 20 minutes a day walking back and forth in chest-high water in addition to or instead of a daily walk.
Read more: Why is swimming healthy?
5. Sleep right
Lie on your back or your side, not your stomach. If you lie on your side, put a pillow between your knees. If you like on your back, put one under your knees. You’ll wake up with less pain.
6. Uncross your legs
Love to cross your legs? There’s a surprising reason why this sitting position feels so relaxing: Studies show it literally puts muscles in your back and abdomen into “sleep” mode, decreasing electrical activity.
The problem: Muscles that should be supporting your back are now off-duty, leaving your spine literally “hanging” on various other muscles and ligaments. Over time, this stretches some and tightens others, setting the stage for the day when the tiniest move—bending to tie your shoe or reaching for the breakfast cereal at the back of a shelf—will send your back muscles into spasms.
Instead, plant both feet flat on the floor when sitting for a long time. It may help to keep your hips slightly higher than your knees (you may need a wedge-shaped seat cushion to achieve this).
7. Men: lighten your wallets
In fact, consider swapping an overstuffed wallet for a money clip—and carry it in a front pocket. Sitting on a big wallet in your back pocket can irritate the sciatic nerve that runs from your lower back through your buttocks and down your leg.
The result: a burning sensation that just won’t quit. Cheapskate trick: Use a thick rubber band to hold your bills, driver’s license, and credit cards together.
8. Take a walk while catching up on your phone
In one University of California study of 681 people with lower-back pain, those who walked briskly for three hours a week felt better physically and mentally, while those who performed traditional back exercises had more pain.
Movement of any kind improves the flow of oxygen and nutrients to muscles and redistributes the gel inside the shock-absorbing disks that cushion your vertebrae. In contrast, sitting allows the gel to squash to one side or the other, leaving you with uneven cushioning between the joints of your spine.
9. Switch from old-fashioned high heels to high-style flats
Walking in heels is like walking downhill all day—you have to lean back to avoid the feeling that you’re falling forward, a move that compresses the disks in your lowerback.
When Pennsylvania State University engineers compared muscle tightness in five women wearing flats, medium-height heels, or stilettos, they discovered that the higher the heel, the more the women’s lower-back muscles tightened up.
Save your back by switching to shoes with heels that are less than an inch high. Look for a snug, firm heel counter—the part of the shoe that supports the sides and back of your heel. This gives you better foot control while walking and helps support your arch.
Read more: Dos and don'ts of back pain
Read more: Does paracetamol help back pain?
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