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How to Relieve Back Pain

Emergency Back Pain Relief

The following remedies are appropriate for anyone who is suffering from back pain due to tight, aching back muscles or a strain. However, if you are experiencing pain, weakness, or numbness in the legs, or a loss of bowel or bladder control, see a doctor without delay.

The best cure for an aching back is a little rest.

The best cure for an aching
back is a little rest.

Rest Your Back

It is almost impossible to do anything without using your back. Even activities that do not seem very stressful on your back usually require some effort on its part. The activity need not be very demanding in terms of muscle strength to cause a problem; maybe the activity is one that your back just isn't used to. Often your back muscles simply overdo it. The end result may be a muscle pull or strain. In fact, most back pain and the majority of back injuries are probably related to muscle pulls and strains.

When strained, your muscles need a chance to turn off, rest, and begin to heal themselves. Continuing to be too active can further aggravate a sore back. Find a comfortable position to allow your back to rest. The best position for an injured or achy back is lying down on either your back or side, with the curves of your spine aligned in their natural position. Try lying down on a firm surface like a padded, carpeted floor. You can relax your back by placing a couple of pillows under your knees. If on your side, place the pillows between the knees instead of under them. For your neck's comfort, roll up a small hand towel and place it under your neck to give it a break, too.

Apply Ice to Reduce Swelling

Immediately after your back is injured, blood rushes into the damaged area. Even though swelling is part of the body's normal healing process, too much inflammation can increase pain and lengthen your recovery time. Applying ice immediately after a strain reduces the amount of inflammation, speeds up the healing process, and can numb some of the pain.

Generally, unless otherwise instructed by a physician, ice should be used instead of heat for the first 48 hours after a back strain. Heat from a hot shower, heating pad, or some popular topical lotion may feel better than using ice, but heat treatments increase blood flow, causing greater inflammation, more pain, and usually a slower recovery. At least for the first two days, stick with ice.

You do have to be careful with ice also, though. Incorrect application of ice can damage the skin. To apply ice correctly, warm a towel or pillowcase in slightly hot water, wring out the water, and quickly place an ice pack, ice cubes, or crushed ice in it. Immediately place the towel or pillowcase over the strained area of the back for no longer than 12 to 15 minutes.

If you do not have a towel or pillowcase handy, freeze water in a small paper cup. Peel the cup back so that the ice can go directly on the skin. Make sure that you continually move the ice around in circular motions, not allowing the ice to sit in one place. Another method is to place the ice in a plastic bag or some plastic wrap before applying it to the skin. For additional benefits, use repeated ice treatments approximately once every hour for the first 24 to 48 hours after the strain. This should help to keep swelling to a minimum and reduce the related pain.

Compress the Area

Gently compressing an injured area can assist ice in reducing inflammation and pain, while speeding recovery. Compressing the muscles can provide some temporary support for the area, which may allow you to move around more easily while making you more comfortable. Try using an elastic bandage; wrap it around your midsection over the strained area of the back. Make sure you do not wrap it too tightly. (The wrap can be used over an ice pack providing the ice is applied as described in remedy 2 and for no more than 15 minutes.) An alternative to the elastic bandage is a back support, which acts like a corset to compress and support the back and stomach muscles.

Take Two Aspirin

An over-the-counter analgesic my help relieve your pain.

An over-the-counter analgesic
my help relieve your pain.

Taking an over-the-counter analgesic such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen may help relieve your pain. However, be aware that not all medications, not even nonprescription ones, are for everyone. Pregnant women, for example, should not take any medication without first checking with their doctor. And people with ulcers should stay away from analgesics containing aspirin. Don't take any medicine for a bad back without first learning about its potential side effects and talking to your doctor. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter analgesics, click here.

Know When to See a Doctor

Muscle pulls and strains, although quite common, can be severe. Other spinal tissues can also experience injuries. Ligaments can be sprained or torn, joints can become irritated, and of course, spinal disks can bulge and tear. It is important for you to know when a back injury goes beyond your ability to treat yourself.

After a strain or injury to the back, the body can have a variety of natural reactions causing numerous symptoms, such as back pain. If, after two or three days of bed rest, your severe back pain has not subsided, you should see your physician. Sometimes, when many of the tissues in the back are seriously injured, the muscles can tighten up, or spasm, and clamp down around blood vessels. Muscle spasms can cause pain, sometimes severe, that makes it difficult to sit, stand, or do virtually anything. Many times, the only way to relax intense spasms is with the assistance of a physician.

Other signs to watch for are the loss of bowel or bladder control or pain, numbness, tingling, or other similar sensations that run down an arm or leg or around the chest. This type of symptom can make your hands, fingers, feet, and toes feel like they are burning, cold, asleep, or being poked with pins and needles. Finally, it's time to see your physician when it takes larger and larger amounts of medication to reduce your back pain.

If you experience any of these symptoms, get a professional opinion. Serious injuries that go untreated or are treated incorrectly can be dangerous, leading to further impairment and possibly irreparable damage. Just having one of these symptoms does not automatically mean that you will require major therapy. However, it's best to let your physician rule out serious spinal problems so that you can put your mind at ease and get on with the business of healing.

If you follow these steps you should be able to reduce some of your discomfort and reduce the swelling in your back. If, however, you are experiencing a long-term problem, the next section will offer you some solutions to relieve your backaches.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.