It is always a startling, and occasionally humorous, turn of events when one so accustomed
and schooled in the art of walking upright suddenly discovers themselves in a heap
upon the floor. The initial moments of shock wear off to make way for varying sensations
of pain and, quite possibly, a degree of embarrassment as you quickly scan the surroundings
to ascertain that no one has witnessed your ungraceful spill.
I experienced a noticeable degree of discomfort that fateful afternoon that I mysteriously
failed to traverse a flat, concrete surface without hitting the ground. For many years,
I'd had an unblemished record of success in traveling without falling. Yet it all
came to a crashing end a few weeks ago in the backyard of our home. I was so preoccupied
with the details of how I was going to restore myself to my former position that I
was not concerned by any potentially leering (and bemused) neighborly gazes.
The pain initially began and remained in both my ankles. My right leg and foot were
nicely bruised. I thought perhaps this would be the sum of it: transitory pain and
fading evidence of the incident. I was unfortunately mistaken. As the bruises disappeared
and the soreness in my ankles dissipated, I was visited by an old, familiar friend:
lower back pain. The difference this time, however, is that my "visitor" has stretched
his customary two day vacation into a three week (and counting) nuisance that occasionally
becomes a full-blown ordeal. Getting out of bed can be a veritable production (with
a lovely soundtrack of accompanying groans.) Normal activities can seem overwhelmingly
wearisome, such as standing over the kitchen sink peeling two pounds of shrimp. I
also ask myself why relatives suddenly require that I lift heavy objects when my back
is the least equipped to withstand the strain.
Under such circumstances, the instinctual response is to become more sedentary. However,
this only exacerbates the pain. When and how you rest, among other things, plays a
role in ameliorating your discomfort.
Lower back pain can be caused by a variety of factors, among them injury and overuse.
If you experience stomach distress, fever, numbness, a loss of bowel control, or a
pain so great that you are rendered immobile, a visit to your doctor will be necessary.
Otherwise, lower back pain can be relieved by taking simple measures.
Be aware of your posture. Although your pain may tempt you to hunch over, ascertain
that your hips, knees, shoulders, and ears are in alignment as you walk. Keep your
shoulders back and your head up. When sitting, use chairs that provide lower back
support. It is recommended that your knees be elevated a bit more than your hips.
If you must sit for a lengthy period of time, consider placing a rolled towel or small
pillow behind your lower back.
If you are forced to stand for considerable periods, rest your foot on a surface,
such as a low stool or step. Alternate each foot every five to fifteen minutes.
Whether sitting or standing, carve out time to walk around, even if only for a few
When you are sleeping, it is best to lie down on your side with a pillow between your
knees and one beneath your head. If you lay on your back, place a pillow (or a few)
underneath your knees and one beneath your lower back. It is advised that you not
sleep on your stomach but if you must, place a pillow underneath your hips.
If you do not have a firm mattress, obtain a piece of plywood ½ inch thick and place
it under the mattress.
Your habits play a role in protecting you or increasing your susceptibility to back
pain. Keeping fit, especially through a series of low-impact aerobics such as swimming,
walking, and riding a stationary bike, will help you. Such exercises are much gentler
on the spine than jumping rope or running, for example. Stretching before any physical
activity will also benefit you.
If you are overweight, strive to lose the excess pounds that place added strain upon
If you are a smoker, do all you can to quit. Smoking increases pain sensitivity, places
you at a greater risk for bone loss, and interferes with blood circulation.
Wear low-heeled shoes.
Employ proper lifting techniques when picking up a heavy object. It is very easy to
absentmindedly pick up objects using your back as the primary support, but always
remember that all too true cliché: "Lift with your legs, not your back." Bend your
knees and keep your back straight as you lift, holding the heavy item close to your
belly button. Do not make any twisting motions while you are lifting. If you must,
use a back belt to remind you of these techniques, but do not rely on it for back
If an object is simply too heavy for you to lift, seek help.
Other treatment options
Although there does not exist strong evidence of its usefulness, applying heat and
ice to the affected area may help.
You may avail yourself of over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol or Motrin to
relieve your pain as you recover.
Visiting a chiropractor or getting a massage may benefit you.
If after a few weeks your pain persists despite any and all efforts, it is suggested
that you consult your physician in order to rule out a more serious condition. You
may simply require stronger medication and/or the aid of a physical therapist who
will recommend specific exercises. The good news, however, is that most lower back
pain can be successfully relieved.