You were playing with the kids in the yard and you felt it go, or maybe you heard a pop and felt pain while cleaning the house, lifting weights in the gym or even just slouching at your work desk. Your spine is a complex joint that requires special care and attention, and when it isn’t kept healthy through proper posture and strength training exercises, it can be injured annoyingly easily.
As soon as you feel your back begin to ache, you need to act to reduce the damage and initiate healing. However, too many people make major mistakes when it comes to spine recovery, which leads to worse problems (and more pain) down the road. Read on to learn what you need to do to fix your back problem ASAP.
First, you need to assess your symptoms with accuracy. Some questions you might use to guide your assessment include:
- From where does the pain originate?
- Is the pain sharp, dull, tingly or achy?
- Does the pain radiate up or down your back or body?
- Do you feel pain or numbness in your arms or legs?
- Are you experiencing any non-pain symptoms, like impaired digestion, sleep or mobility?
The answers to these questions will guide you toward the cause of your back problem, which will lead you toward the best treatments. If your symptoms are severe – for example if you would rate your pain a “10” or if you can’t move at all – you should seek professional help immediately.
If you wouldn’t call your back problem severe, you should try to initiate healing by taking NSAID pain relievers. Often, back pain occurs due to inflammation, and NSAIDs (which stand for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) block enzymes which encourage inflammation, thereby reducing pain. Some affordable and accessible options include ibuprofen and naproxen sodium – which are the active ingredients in Advil and Aleve, respectively.
Ice and Heat
Next, you need to be icing and heating your back – but not just any ice or heat will do. Both ice and heat can have detrimental effects on your back when improperly administered, so you need to be careful how you apply ice and heat to ensure optimal healing.
First, you should focus on ice. Ice will work with your NSAID to reduce inflammation, and it will help numb the area, further relieving pain. You should keep ice pressed to the origin of your back pain for about 20 minutes – or enough time for it to feel cold, then painful, then tingly, then numb. You should try to ice several times per day, but you don’t want to leave ice on your back for too long. You also don’t want to place ice directly on your skin; both these actions could result in frostbite.
After a few days of icing only, you can begin to introduce heat. Using a electric heating pad or a microwaved heating pillow, apply heat to your back in 20-minute intervals after you have iced. This will reintroduce blood flow to the area, facilitating healing and providing a soothing sensation.
This is the hardest step for most people. You shouldn’t be using your back much, especially during the early stages of the healing process. Standing and sitting are hard on the spine, requiring stabilizing muscles and compressing disks. For at least a week, you should allow your back to rest by lying flat on your back or your stomach. You should ask your boss if you can work from home for this period or use your sick days – it’s worth it.
Advanced Medical Help
As mentioned before, back injuries are complex; no two are exactly alike. Your back might feel like-new in a week or two – but most back injuries take between three months and six months to heal completely. If you hit the three-month mark without any sign of improvement, it is time to seek professional help.
A doctor will likely take X-rays and other images of your back to understand the problem and the severity. They might then advocate for more intensive therapy, perhaps even minimally invasive spine surgery to address the source of your pain. You should follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter to avoid further injury to your back that might result in a lifelong problem.
Unless you are under 25, your back won’t fix itself overnight. You need to be patient and calm, administering the right treatments at the right times, to get your back back to normal. Then, once the pain is gone, you should be careful to sit and stand straight, lift with your legs and otherwise be gentle with your back – it’s the only one you’ve got.