Updated: May 10
Back pain is the #1 thing we see in PT. It is estimated that at least 80% of the adult population will struggle with back pain at some point in their lives, and many of these people have recurring or chronic back pain. Research and medical advice have changed a ton over the years in regards to management of back pain. I don’t know if any of you are old enough to remember this, but they used to actually hospitalize and put people on traction for days at a time who were experiencing a bad enough flare-up of lower back pain. So, with a lot of outdated and misinformation out there, let’s talk about the things that should NOT be done when you’re having a flare-up of back pain, and a few things you should definitely be doing:
1. DO NOT sit around or lie around when you’re having a flare-up of back pain. This is very tempting, and this is probably the #1 mistake people make. It is not very motivating to get up and move around when you’re experiencing back spasms, but one of the best ways to recover from a flare-up quickly is to keep moving. Avoid sitting or lying during the day for more than 30 minutes at a time. Make sure to get up and walk, change positions, and avoid long trips that require sitting in a car if possible.
2. DO NOT try to stretch by folding forward and touching your toes or pulling your knee to your chest. See picture for example:
In many situations, this is totally safe and helpful, but if you haven’t first been evaluated by a Physical Therapist, this is a good thing to avoid in case your back pain may be due to a disc or nerve issue. If this is the case, folding forward may aggravate or prolong your back pain, and not help it. This is a stretch that you eventually want to be able to re-incorporate into your program, as it is not healthy to try to avoid certain movements for the rest of your life. But this is best done with guidance of a PT.
3. DO NOT catastrophize your pain. What does this mean? When most people are having a new pain or a flare-up of pain, they freak out. This is normal, but it is not helpful. Our bodies take signals from our brains, and they respond. If we are mentally freaking out, our body will too. It will get more tense, more tight, and we will perceive more pain that we might otherwise. Instead, remind yourself that back pain is common, and it doesn’t mean that something is necessarily structurally damaged or broken. This will help your mind and your body to relax and work through the discomfort easier.
4. DO NOT ingest a ton of pills for weeks on end. If you can’t tolerate the pain without taking a ton of over-the-counter meds or digging into the stash of prescription meds you have left over from a previous surgery, then you need to get your back pain evaluated by a medical professional. Pain is not all bad and it helps us to figure when we’re overdoing it, or when we can get up and push it a little more. It is totally fine to help yourself get through with some OTC meds for a little while, just don’t make it a long-term habit or your first go-to.
Instead of caving in to lying around, feeling all doom and gloom, and popping pills, try to get up and walk around, remind yourself that back pain is a pretty normal occurrence and in many cases goes away on its own, and try to feel optimistic that everything will be okay. If your pain is getting worse, persists or is more severe than usual, comes with unusual symptoms such as tingling, numbness, burning, or leg weakness, you should be evaluated by your Physical Therapist or PCP.
Let us know in the comments if this article helps you, and let us know what you’ve been doing wrong all along in regards to back pain, you're not alone!
If you’d like to schedule a free in-person or over-the phone consultation for your back pain, click here https://www.thegrpt.com/events-and-offers
In good health,
Dr. Ashley Bertorelli, Founder of The Green Room Physical Therapy
Clifton Park & Troy