When that bout of low back pain strikes, what do you do? Finding relief from that pain is the primary focus for most of us. The question then becomes a choice of a variety of low back pain relieving methods we have all thought about. Should I use heat, ice, or both? Should I take over the counter medicine? How much of that should I take? Is it ok to take someone else’s prescribed medicine? Which is the best, hot tubs, hot baths, stretches, exercises, or something else? The purpose of this blog is to provide you with some guidance for your own home therapy when low back pain strikes.
There are several factors that need to be considered when treating low back pain, even when you are treating yourself at home. The questions are as follows:
1. What is the exact location of the symptoms?
2. How severe are the symptoms?
3. When did the symptoms start?
4. How did the symptoms start?
5. Is recovery going to be delayed because of a systemic disease?
The answers to these questions are the most important ones in determining the initial treatment, no matter where you are being treated. Let’s take a more detailed look at the answers to these questions.
Knowing the exact location of the discomfort is a major qualifier needed for making diagnoses. The most accurate diagnosis will lead to faster pain relief and a faster recovery. The big walk away for home treatment is finding where the pain starts in relations to the legs. If the pain starts in the lower back and travels down the leg, it has a higher probability of being a disc problem. If the pain stays in the lower back, it could be a ball and socket (hip) problem for the leg or it could be a lower back vertebra problem. The treatments will differ slightly.
The primary symptom that people are concerned with is pain. Rate your pain on a zero to ten scale. Zero means there is no pain at all and 10 means you are experiencing the pain of having been shot in several places at one time. Remember, pain is only a symptom and is not the cause. Pain is a warning that something is wrong in your body. For example, if pain increases when you cough, you are being warned not to change your abdominal pressure rapidly. The important thing here is to determine what level of pain warrants a trip to the hospital for you.
Fresh problems are much easier to treat than problems that have been going on for a while. A brand-new problem will need to treat the immediate over production of inflammation first and then start treatment on the damaged tissue. Older problems will need to be brought to a controlled inflammation state to re-initiate the healing process. This differentiation calls for different treatments.
Current literature indicates that 85 to 90% of all low back pain cases occur for no reason that the patient can remember. If you remember the cause of the pain, it can give a big clue as to what tissue in the body is malfunctioning and needs to be repaired. Many times, heavy lifts, coughs, sneezes, and slips and falls are responsible for lumbar spine disc problems.
You may remember during the Covid pandemic hearing that people with underlying conditions were at higher risk of getting Covid 19. This is because underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and other systemic diseases are already taking a lot of the materials necessary for repair. This leads to a shortage of material needed for the body to repair what is damaged. Think of this as a supply chain shortage.
I have devised this quick reference grid to help guide you on whether or not to seek outside the home care.
Pain (past 2 joints?)
Severe (more than 8/10?)
Caused by trauma?
Have a systemic disease?
It is my opinion that a score of four or five on this grid would be best served by seeking immediate chiropractic or medical attention. A score of one, two, or three could likely be treated at home and get significant relief. These cases should be seen by a chiropractor for treatment to restore functional activities that will be hindered by the condition, but they do not require immediate attention.
Here are some simple rules to live by for home treatment of low back pain. When the problem has just started (acute) I recommend ice applications for 30 minutes every other hour. The ice should have a layer of towel between the ice bag and the bare skin to prevent “freezer burn”. Use ice for the first 24 hours. After 24 hours, use hot wet towels directly on the sore area for 10 minutes at a time. You can do this three times per hour for as many hours as needed.
Determine if your pain is worse when you stand and walk around or if it is worse when you sit in a chair. If the pain is worse with standing, lying on your back with your knees over a pillow or lying on your side with your knees bent will likely offer relief. If your pain is worse with sitting, standing up and leaning back or lying on your tummy with pillows under your chest will likely offer some relief.
Movement is important. A recent study showed that when any joint in the body moves, it produces small amounts of inflammation. That small amount of inflammation brings the raw material needed for repair as well as natural pain killers to the area. The bottom line is to try to put as much gentle movement to the area as possible.
You never want to take anyone else’s prescription medication. This is very dangerous to do. I recommend alternating doses of ibuprofen and aspirin if you are permitted by your doctor to do so. Take the maximum dose allowable of ibuprofen and then three hours later take the maximum dose of aspirin. Three hours after taking the aspirin, repeat the dosage of ibuprofen and so on. Dosing with over-the-counter medications like this can be done for up to 48 hours with no major side effects to be expected. This technique works very well with ice (and then later the heat) applications.
I hope this information is helpful to you. I really hope you never have to use this information. In the event that you do, please don’t forget to give me a call so I can advise you as well as treat you to get you back to doing what you need to be doing as soon as possible. I would be honored if you would share this information with as many family members and friends as possible. Thank you and be sure to look for our next blog.