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An 29 percent of Americans (that’s roughly 96 million people) suffer from each year, yet the cause of back pain remains a mystery for many people.
That’s likely due in part to the fact that back pain has so many potential underlying causes, but it’s also because many people would rather pop over-the-counter pain pills instead of work to identify the actual cause of their back pain. And that’s a shame, because often back pain can be fixed with some simple efforts.
If you’ve been struggling with back pain, the solution might be simpler than you think. Learn how to get rid of back pain through stretching, exercise and other drug-free treatments.
What causes lower back pain?
The first step to relieving back pain is determining the cause.
Lack of physical activity leads to poor mobility, postural misalignments and weak muscles, all of which contribute to back pain in different ways.
- Poor mobility: Tight muscles in your glutes and legs tug on your lumbar spine, creating an excessive lumbar curve (lordosis). Tight shoulder and upper back muscles also pull your spine out of alignment.
- Posture problems: If you sit a lot, you may have adopted poor posture, such as slouched shoulders, a protruding neck and an arched lower back. These posture problems can all lead to back pain.
- Weak muscles: Weak muscles, especially the core, hips, glutes and back muscles, fail to support your spine as well as they should. This leads to misalignment of the spine and consequently lower back pain.
Sometimes, back pain results from funky sleeping positions. If you wake up with severe back pain that gets better throughout the day, it might be time for a new or to complement your .
Strains (pulled muscles or tendons) and sprains (torn ligaments) are commonly linked to lower back pain. Both types of injuries occur when you push your body past its normal range of motion or lift loads heavier than you can handle.
Inflamed joints, especially lumbar vertebrae and hip joints, can cause serious lower back pain. Joint inflammation may result from normal wear-and-tear (arthritis) or an injury.
Spinal injuries and conditions
Sometimes lower back pain is directly related to a spinal disorder or injury, such as:
- Herniated disc: a spinal disc injury that occurs when the jelly-like interior of a disc protrudes through a tear in the outer layer of the disc
- Spinal stenosis: narrowing of the spinal column
- Spondylitis: inflammation of joints between vertebrae
- Spondylosis: a degenerative spinal disorder that can cause loss of normal spinal function
- Degenerative disc disease: osteoporosis (bone degeneration) of the spine
Your sciatic nerve runs from your lower back all the way through your legs. Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve gets compressed or irritated, and it sends shooting pain through your hips and legs. Sciatica pain often feels like a jolt in response to sneezing and coughing, or sitting down or standing up too quickly.
Drug-free treatments for lower back pain
It’s common to pop an over-the-counter pain reliever or even ask a doctor for a prescription to treat an achy back. Pain medications have their place, but you might be able to find relief from back pain with these drug-free treatment options.
Many people avoid exercise when their back hurts, assuming exercise will make it worse. In the case of injuries, this is true if you aren’t careful. But .
Weak muscles — especially weak core, glute and back muscles — don’t support your spine as well as they should. The result: Nagging chronic back pain. Corrective exercise targets those weak muscle groups and fixes postural misalignments to relieve pain.
Low-impact workouts such as swimming, water aerobics and recumbent cycling also keep your back healthy and strong.
Stretching and mobilization
Often rooted in , back pain may disappear with a consistent and targeted stretching routine.
Tight hips, quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes contribute to lower back pain because of the way these tight muscles tug on your spine. They can cause chronic postural misalignments and muscular imbalances that cause pain in seemingly unconnected areas — your back being the primary one.
Try your hips, quads and hamstrings every evening before bed. Toss in a few gentle seated spinal twists if the movement doesn’t cause pain. With consistent practice, you may notice your back pain is less severe.
Heat and cold therapy
For temporary relief from back pain, try using a . Cold reduces inflammation and constricts blood flow, while heat relaxes muscles and dilates blood vessels. Both can treat back pain depending on the cause. A good rule of thumb to remember is that heat works best for soreness and works best for injuries.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a type of therapy that stimulates nerves at pain sites. Using electrodes placed on your skin, a TENS device emits gentle electric signals that mask or intercept the pain signals your body sends to your brain.
Massage therapy relieves musculoskeletal pain from and adhesions. It also promotes increased blood flow, which helps deliver more oxygen and nutrients to tight muscles. If your back pain stems from an injury, massage might not be the best option for you. Talk to your doctor if you aren’t sure.
If you love massages but can’t fork out the cost of one every week, consider investing in a gun. There are plenty of low- to moderately priced these days, and a one-time investment can of traditional massage therapy. To treat back pain with percussive massage, start on the lowest setting of your device and slowly increase pressure if you feel you can handle it.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.