Back pain is one of the most common problems we experience. In fact, it’s estimated that 8 out of every 10 of us will experience back pain at some point in their lives. It’s the number one reason for missing days at work and the number two reason for people to consult with their doctors (number one is upper respiratory infection). While the causes of low back pain are numerous, the treatments to get rid of it are just as plentiful. These treatments can range from incredibly expensive all the way down to simple lifestyle changes! Often when people come in to our PT clinics I find most patients’ back pain can be reduced by these very simple solutions; many of which cost little to no money. Today on the Fit Stop Blog, one of our back pain specialists, Cameron Garber, PT, DPT, is sharing a few of his favorite inexpensive tips for getting rid of back pain. How many of them will help your pain…?
1. What position are you sitting in right now? Not great? Let’s change it. Cost: FREE. Just curious – what position are you in right now? Are you all curled up in your favorite chair? Is your back rounded as you slouch in your chair? Are your feet on the floor or are you sitting on one of them right now? Are your knees, hips and elbows all at 90 degree angles, or are you craning your head and neck forward to read and type on your little laptop? Posture is important. Our sitting position is a huge determining factor on how we feel. A lot of back and neck pain can actually be avoided by ensuring a proper ergonomic setup. Unfortunately, almost none of us do this. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to make some subtle changes without breaking the bank. It can be really helpful to check in with your physical therapist. For advice on a proper ergonomic setup for your workstation check out this post: “5 Easy Ergonomic Fixes To Treat Your Back And Neck Pain“.
2. Switch up your shoes. Cost: $60-120+. Your feet are your foundation. Something as simple as worn out shoes can lead to adaptation at the ankle, knee and hips which affect muscle tightness and pelvic positioning. Prolonged alteration of positioning can affect your knees hips and can lead to a myriad of back problems. Make sure your shoes are comfortable, supportive (but not over-corrective), and still provide cushion. Keep in mind that more expensive isn’t necessarily better, but make sure that any shoes you are going to be active in or spend a lot of time in are helping you stay healthy, not causing a cascade of painful symptoms. Spending a little on over-the-counter shoe inserts can make a big difference too. Sometimes a $10-30 shoe insert can help make a shoe that was killing you work for you again.
3. Bag the bags and purses. Cost: Free. This one might actually save you money. Ditching the purse might be a fashion faux pas, but it can save your neck and shoulders from pain. It might save you some pain in the pocket book, too, if you don’t have to buy as many expensive purses. If you just have to have one, or many, make sure you clean it out daily. Before you leave the house each day make sure you look inside and ensure everything in there is absolutely necessary. If you carry a laptop use a bag with 2 shoulder straps. A messenger bag make look great, but is causes a lot of the same stress on your body that a purse does. Using both straps evens out the load and will help decrease your upper back and neck pain.
4. Ice, ice baby. Cost: $0-30: Ice is a great tool for relieving your pain. Not only does it numb up sore areas, but it helps them relax as they warm back up. Ice is helping in interrupting the inflammatory process and reducing irritation. It’s a cheap and quick fix that you can use pretty much all the time. Crushed ice in a plastic bag is the easiest solution and most effective. Stick this inside a pillow case to protect your skin and you have a great ice pack. If you’d like something reusable, try a large back of frozen peas. It can be reused and molded to the body part you are applying it too. Personally I use a big family size one for my low back. I wrap it in plastic to make sure if the bag breaks I don’t have peas everywhere. Research has actually proven that frozen peas are as effective as ice and more effective than gels cold packs. Gel packs work well too but cost a bit more money. The favorite of most of my patients is a Colpac brand. (Found here from Amazon)
5. Do some planks, even while standing. Cost: Free. Our bodies have a built in back brace. The abdominal muscles have several layers which work to wrap around our midsection and provide stabilizing support to our spines. Planks and side planks are one of the most effective ways to engage those muscles. The tight tummy feeling you get while planking is the key to stabilizing your back and avoiding low back pain. Work on engaging those abs you fire up in a plank position while still breathing. As you get better at planks, work on trying to engage those same muscles while you’re standing. If you can do this and still breathe, you’ve created your body’s natural back brace which will help protect your back and lessen your back pain. (Not sure how to plank? Watch this video to learn proper form as well as a few things you should avoid)
6. Drop a few lbs. Cost: Freedom. I know, I know. This is a touchy subject. The simple fact of the matter is extra weight puts a lot of extra stress on all of your joints. Many studies show that weight loss may be as effective at eliminating back pain as nearly any other thing you can do. Every pound of weight lost is equal to about 4.5 pounds less pressure in the knee joint. If you drop 10 pounds that is 45 pounds less in your knee with every step. The pressures aren’t the same in the low back, but the idea holds true that with weight lost you’ll be putting a lot less wear and tear on your body. So, dropping a few pound might just be the secret to you getting your healthy back back.
7. Spend a little to save (and sleep) a lot. Cost: $30 to as much as you want to spend. Just like your sitting position is one of the major factors influencing your back pain, so is your sleep position. Getting a new mattress may be the thing which helps your back the very most. Now, this solution can be very expensive but may save you a lot of frustration. Years of back pain, doctor visits, MRI’s and surgery can sometimes be avoided just by changing your mattress or sleep position. Starting with your sleep position is the cheaper and easier route. Try putting pillow under your knees if you are a back sleeper. If you lie on your side putting a pillow between your knees and also hugging a pillow can improve the alignment of your hips, low back and shoulders. Also remember to make sure your head is level not tilted upward or downward. Getting the right pillow height is critical. If you’ve tried positioning and pillows and still have poor sleep, then it may be time to start hunting down your perfect mattress.
8. Get up and move! Cost: FREE. The time you’ve been reading this blog post may be one of your biggest enemies. Prolonged positioning either standing or sitting is another major contributor to pain. The amount of time spent sitting each day is a huge predictor of mortality and wellness. Getting up and moving is a great way to reduce your pain and improve your health. Make sure that you get up and stretch or walk around at least once an hour.
9. Go see a Physical Therapist. Cost $25 and up depending on your insurance plan. Although more expensive than some of the other options, it will save you thousands in the long run. (Check out our post “What’s the most cost-effective treatment for low back pain?”) Physical therapy leads to the most cost effective outcome when seeking treatment for your back pain. It also tends to get the best outcomes as well. Patients get better faster, have less time off work, take fewer medications and resume normal activity faster. A recent study also showed that nearly all patients who went to therapy early after having back pain were able to avoid surgery. There are many ways in which seeing a PT will save you time, pain and money.
So, if you are tired of hurting I hope you’ll try a few of my top tips for eliminating your pain. My personal favorite is #9 because then I get to work with you. As Doctors of Physical Therapy my colleagues and I can identify the source of your low back pain and get you feeling better again. Give us a call here at Fit Stop and we can make sure you’re on the quickest and most cost-effective route to banishing your back pain.
Click on the clinic location closest to you to talk to one of our therapists about your pain today!
Fit Stop – Salt Lake City
51 South Main Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84111