Lower back pain can often appear to come out of nowhere and then prove very stubborn and difficult to get rid of. This can make life a lot less enjoyable, as even the most basic activities like sitting down and watching TV or finishing a day’s work in the office can become painful.
At this point, you may well be willing to try anything. The first thing you should try, is definitely to visit the doctor. But if they don’t seem to be able to help, or you have a long wait before you can get the attention you need, then there are several things you can try in the meantime. Here are some possible causes for your back pain and some methods that will potentially counteract those issues.
Stretch/Correct a Pelvic Tilt
A pelvic tilt is what happens when the force on your pelvis is different at the front from the back. Usually this is because your hip flexors are shorter and tighter than your hip extensors – meaning that the muscles in the front of your leg are tight and those in the back are long and weak. This is commonly the result of spending long hours sitting down, during which time our legs are constantly bent at 90 degrees. This then causes the pelvis to tip slightly forward (an anterior tilt), which causes a bloated-looking stomach along with lower back pain and poor mobility.
To solve the problem, you need to start stretching out your quadriceps and hamstrings in order to relieve tension and remove ‘holding patterns’. Just doing a few yoga stretches in the morning to focus on the legs can make a huge difference and will often eliminate pain in a very short time frame.
Stretching can also help to correct muscular tightness in the back itself and you’ll find that generally you feel much more energetic and healthy when you regain a semblance of flexibility – so work it into your routine!
The fascia is the thin ‘film’ that is wrapped around your muscles and tendons like cling film holding them in place. Often we ignore this element in our musculature, even though it is crucial for holding everything in the correct place and supporting our movement through all ranges of motion. Sometimes problems can occur with the fascia and this can cause considerable discomfort. A ‘myofascial adhesion’ for instance occurs when the structure of the fascia becomes damaged causing two or more layers to fuse together, preventing normal movement and causing discomfort.
This problem can be fixed with deep tissue massage which can help to break up the adhesions in order to restore normal, pain free movement. At the same time, deep tissue massage can help to reduce knots in the muscle, which cause tiny sections of muscle to tense uncomfortably, again causing pain which is often ‘referred’ to other areas of the body.
Most of us can’t afford to get regular deep tissue massages from a professional and nor do we know people who will be willing to give us intense massages for free. Thus, in order to get the same benefits, we might consider using ‘self-release’ whereby something else is used in order to massage the stiff muscles and fascia. This is where ‘foam rolling’ comes from, which can also be performed with a tennis ball. Lay a tennis ball on the ground, then roll on it using your back and working it into the points that seem to create a ‘relieving’ kind of pain. You might just find that this helps to solve the discomfort.
Your sleeping habits can also contribute to back pain if you aren’t sleeping in a good position. If your mattress is old or if you have added an extra pillow when you sleep, then your lower back may not be getting the support that it needs and this can lead to discomfort in the area.
If you suspect this might be the problem, then you can try swapping your mattress. This is an expensive thing to try though, so first you could try placing a very small cushion under the small of your back to see if that offers you the support you need. You might also notice that you don’t experience the same back pain when staying with friends or at hotels, which might be a sign that your bed is to blame.
Another possible cause for lower back pain is a trapped nerve. Here a nerve can become trapped or irritated by the vertebra in your spine, resulting in a severe shooting pain that might travel all the way down your leg and be extra painful when you try to walk or even when you laugh. This is known as ‘sciatica’ and can either be a chronic condition, or transient.
If you don’t usually experience lower back pain and you remember ‘feeling’ the moment when your pain began (possibly when you were bending over or twisting round), then chances are that the nerve is only stuck temporarily. Over time you should find that the nerve works its way back out and that the discomfort goes away, but you can help ease the pain by using certain positions to open up the spinal column.
One is to try lying on the floor in front of a chair, with your legs on top of the seat at right angles. Another, is to position yourself on all-fours and then arch your back gently upwards, hold for a few seconds and then let it sag. Finally, try rolling yourself into a ball so that you’re hugging your knees and only your back touch the ground (on something soft) then rock back and forward to ‘massage’ your spine with the floor.
You might find that a tens machine also offers you temporary relief. This is a machine that, like an ab belt, delivers small electric shocks in order to make your nerves fire. The aim here is to make the nerves surrounding the spine fire in a ‘tingly’ way, which then creates a kind of ‘noise’ and disrupts the pain signal coming through.
Lower back pain can also be caused simply by a torn or otherwise damaged muscle. This is particularly likely if you’ve recently redecorated or moved home, or if you play sports/exercise regularly. In this case, the best treatment is simply to rest and wait for your back to recover, but failing that you might consider trying an ice bath which has been shown to aid recovery from such causes of pain.
Rest is the best treatment for a pulled or torn muscle and will also help a trapped nerve. Many causes of lower back pain are temporary, so just make sure you aren’t exacerbating the condition by continuing to work out at the gym or otherwise engage in tough physical labor.