Strategies to manage back pain

Hi everyone, Alistair here. Over my time here at Barefoot Physiotherapy, I’ve seen dozens and dozens of people for back pain.  It’s so prolific that I’ve really taken up an interest in not only wanting to know more about how it’s caused, but delving deeply into how to self manage back pain, so that I can adequately educate my clients.  So I put this little blog together, so hopefully if you are experiencing back pain, you might be able to alleviate some of that pain yourself. 

Back pain can come on seemingly out of nowhere sometimes. You might wake up with it, finish a work day and feel it spasm, or maybe it came on after a workout. Either way, when it strikes you’ll appreciate having several tricks up your sleeve to self manage and calm things down.

These are my top 8 strategies to manage back pain.

1. Know that you’re going to be okay.

When your back is sore it just sucks. You might be thinking “am I ever going to feel normal again?”, “will I need to have a surgery?”, “what if this is just the way things are now?”, “I’m aging!!”. You feel miserable and like the world is against you but know that this is only temporary and you’ll be back to your usual self soon. Use the strategies in this article to help you through this uncomfortable period.

2. Avoid the stuff that hurts or aggravates it.

If you were digging a hole in your backyard and hurt your back stop digging the damn hole! This goes for sitting down for long periods, squats, leaning forward, or twisting. Picking up the washing basket – classic. Each time you go into your pain zone your muscles engage as a protective response and get a little tighter. This doesn’t feel nice and we want you to feel nice.

3. Rest but keep moving or change your position.

Many clients make the mistake of going into full couch potato mode when they’re in pain – never go into full couch potato mode. The reason for this is that your back will get mighty stiff and when you go to stand up it will be 10x harder. By all means, rest, chill out, order in your favourite food, watch netflix, whatever you need to do but just add a little movement to it.

Try and get up every 20-30 minutes for a short walk, perform slow gentle pain free movement like marching on the spot, or even simply change your resting position. For instance, if you were laying on your right side, change to your left side, or sit or stand for a little while. Think “the next position is the best position” and make it your mantra.

4. One exercise to do – gently shake that booty

This falls into the previous point about keeping moving, however, here I cover a specific exercise that works well for many of my clients. We call them “tail wags”. Basically you’re going to lean forward slightly from your hips, you may wish to have a table or wall to lean against, and gently “wag your tail”. With this you’ll be simultaneously tilting and rotating your pelvis and lower back joints to bring about muscle activation, blood circulation, and nice gentle input into the key areas of tissue grumpiness.

Do this for 1-2 mins several times throughout the day. For extra relief try this one in the shower with hot water running on your low back. The heat will help to reduce muscle spasm and give you extra comfort.

5. Myofascial release your glutes

Your glutes, aka the two round fleshy parts that make up your bottom, are likely going to be a bit locked up. Taking pressure off these will also take pressure off your back and get your tight hips moving better which is needed for back pain recovery if your hips are restricted. Now, if you have serious movement dysfunction, are a falls risk, or have difficulty getting up and down off the ground, give this one a miss. For everyone else, here’s how to deload your butt.

Get a small ball. You can use a tennis ball, lacrosse ball or any other myofascial-pressure-release-apparatus of your choosing. As long as it applies pressure against your muscle it will serve your backside well.

Next, place the ball against your glute and lean into it against a wall or the floor. Roll it around a little until you find a spot that grabs your attention and then simply apply pressure for 60-90 seconds and repeat for 2-3 times for both your glutes.  We sell Lacrosse Balls here at Barefoot for exactly this purpose. Grab one next time you’re in.

6. Anti-inflammatory medicine

If your back is particularly grumpy anti-inflammatories can take the edge off and encourage you to not go into full-couch-potato-mode. They’ll also help to manage any extraneous inflammation that may be occuring around the sore area. Head into your GP or pharmacy, discuss your symptoms and they’ll recommend something for you.

7. When to get professional help

If you’re really in a lot of pain and experiencing symptoms like pain shooting through your legs, tingling or numbness, get to your physio or GP. Don’t wait it out just get it looked at professionally. You only get one body and if you’re having symptoms like this you could be doing more damage by not getting professional treatment.

8. See a Physiotherapist

If your symptoms aren’t improving with these strategies to manage back pain, please come and see us, seriously, you can even schedule an appointment here on our website and one of us super intelligent physios will be on the phone to you shortly. In most cases, the above tips will help you out but the gold standard comes from seeing a physio that actually assesses you.

Here at Barefoot, we pride ourselves on treating the body that is in front of us. When it comes to providing care, personalised assessment really is the gold standard. We need to understand what is restricted in your body to understand your back pain which then allows us to tailor a treatment approach just for you. No “do this one weird trick to fix your back pain” kinda stuff.