What’s the best thing to do when low back pain attacks? Do you use ice or heat? Should you lay in bed, or exercise? Sometimes it’s hard to know. I've compiled the best low back pain self-help tips from 35 years of chiropractic practice -- there are some of the best!
The general rule of thumb is to apply ice and stay away from heat. That’s because pain is usually associated with some degree of inflammation. Heat causes the blood vessels to dilate, causing more blood to the injured area, and worsening the inflammation. I think of it like throwing gas on a fire – not a very good way to put it out!
A much better practice is to use ice as quickly after the injury as possible. Ice causes constriction of the blood vessels, reduces inflammation and swelling, and reduces pain.
In fact, use of heat after an injury has been shown to prolong the healing time six-fold compared to use of ice.
It’s hard to go wrong with use of ice following a back injury, EXCEPT if you give yourself frostbite! Please don’t do that. You can prevent frostbite by not applying the ice directly to the skin and not applying it too long.
The best duration is 15 minutes per session, and an ever better approach is to apply it 15 minutes on followed by 15 minutes off over a full hour. The 15 minutes off allows the tissues to come back to room temperature and allows the blood vessels to return to normal caliper. When performed in an on-off-on-off-on sequence, the result is a type of pumping effect that pushes out the inflammatory fluids from your tissues and more strongly promotes healing.
As far as activity levels, when I first graduated from chiropractic school some 35 years ago, the common medical commendation was bed rest. Studies proved that to be a bad idea. Bed rest, especially prolonged bed rest promotes muscle wasting, loss of bone, and a host of other nasty health issues.
The best approach is “relative rest.” In other words, take it easy but don’t necessarily be a couch potato. Walk a bit, rest a bit, do what you can comfortably tolerate.
If every time you move a certain way you experience a sharp pain, that’s your body telling you not to move that way. You want to emphasize body positions and body movement that you find helpful, nut hurtful. So it sitting hurts, don’t sit. If bending over hurts, don’t bend over.