No, you didn’t accidentally log onto an AARP site. Back pain is not limited to your twilight years and can, in fact, happen even in your 20s or 30s. Lifting groceries or just trying a new Zumba class can trigger muscle spasms from your body being tweaked the wrong way. Deciding what to do about back pain can be confusing. Should you skip the gym and just lie down? Take a hot bath or use ice? Some approaches may actually make matters worse.
Before you reach for that heating pad, read on for the most common back pain remedy myths and the real, healing truth. (Note: If you experience shooting or severe pain that prevents you from getting around normally, see a doctor immediately.)
Back pain myth #1:
If your back hurts, lie down until the pain subsides
The reality: Keep moving
Lying in bed for days and weeks can delay healing. Resting longer than 48 hours causes muscle atrophy (shrinking), which then causes muscles to spasm more and leads to weakness. Who needs that? Instead, go for light activity such as walking, swimming or low-impact exercise such as the elliptical trainer or recumbent bike to speed healing.
Back pain myth #2:
Substitute a fitness ball for your office chair to strengthen back muscles
The reality: A little goes a long way
Sitting upright on a ball without back support makes it highly unlikely you’ll be able to keep good posture for eight hours. Ultimately, you could end up with back muscle strain and feel worse. Sitting on a ball for shorter periods — 15 to 20 minutes at a time — may help you feel better. Alternate between the ball and a regular chair to avoid muscle fatigue — and get up and move around hourly.
Back pain myth #3:
Most back pain occurs suddenly and without warning
The reality: Trouble’s been brewing
Pain may suddenly appear and be perceived as occurring instantly, but it likely has been behind the scenes for awhile. If you’re not bending properly or you’re using poor back mechanics (i.e., you bend over without bending your knees), at some point something simple like a sneeze may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back — so to speak. What may appear to be a sudden injury could have actually been building for months or even years.
Back pain myth #4:
Apply a hot compress or take a hot bath to ease back pain
The reality: Cold first, heat later
A hot shower may initially feel good, but the heat may actually increase inflammation by opening up blood vessels. Both heat and ice work by breaking the cycles in which muscle spasms cause pain. Apply ice or use a bag of frozen peas — 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off, then repeat six to eight times throughout the day. After the initial 48 hours, switch to an electric heating pad.