Healing a Strained Back
What's happening in there anyway?
Our backs are not really meant to endure repetitive lifting, bending over, twisting, or straining. But since humans shifted from being hunter-gatherers to living in agrarian societies, it's become necessary for people who wish to provide goods and services to use their back in that way.
As a painter, I get my back pain in the lower region known as the lumbar. Usually it's from carrying a paint sprayer with the five gallon bucket from one area of a house to the next. This awkward position often leaves me aching the next day. The last time it happened, I had to seek help.
The muscles in the back pull on the vertebrae and this causes them to become misaligned. It pinches nerves and strains and tears the tendons and muscles around the spine. A strain makes them weaker, which causes even more poor positioning until like me, you end up with Lumbago.
Lumbago is the strain of the lower back
At the onset of the strain, ice packs are recommended. This does not include Icy Hot, which Shaq sells on ESPN during commercial breaks. That only tricks the brain into feeling hot or cold. Just ice in a zip-lock bag does the trick. Tie it on there with a belt or cord. I use a bathrobe belt because it's comfortable. Sometimes I use masking tape to just tape it on there, but pulling it off can sometimes sting. The ice reduces the swelling of the tendons so that blood flow can get to the damaged tissue. It's essential so that your body's own healing mechanisms kick in.
Use the ice pack for twenty minutes on and twenty minutes off. Don't get frostbite! Just throw the pack in the freezer laying flat. Eventually, the bag will melt and refreeze into a flat slab of ice, which is very effective as it cools a sizable region of the back.
After 3 or 4 days of ice, heat is then recommended. This will loosen up the clinched-up muscles. The muscles are pulling the vertebrae out of place, so detangling the tendons and muscles is necessary.
A wet rag in the microwave for 30 seconds usually does it. I use those "hot hands" hand warmers they sell at sporting goods stores or ski shops. We have no shortage of them here. If you live in Florida, the hot rag may be the only way.
Just like the ice, twenty minutes on and twenty minutes off is sufficient.
If you don't start moving the back a little it will cause atrophy—that is, the stiffening of the moving parts so that eventually they don't move at all. To prevent this the following stretches are good:
- Lay flat on your back, and pull your left knee up to your chest and hold it for 30 seconds. Then do the same to the right knee. Do this 3 or 4 times in a row.
- Lay flat on you back with you shoulders firmly planted on the floor. Turn your hips to the right by swinging your leg over until the left hip is at a 90 degree angle. Hold it there for 30 seconds at a time. Do this 3 or 4 times in a row. Then do the same by turning your hip to the left with the left leg.
- Lay flat on your back with your legs through a doorway. Pull your left leg up and place your foot as high as it will go on the door jamb. Hold it there for 30 seconds. Do the same with the right leg.
Remember, the tightness has to go and there is no better way to remove that than stretching.
Vitamins, herbs, and Drugs
I don't recommend prescribed drugs very often, but for immediate relief Ibuprophen seems to work well. Its anti-inflammatory and mild pain-fighting properties work in tandem.
Vitamins to take are your basic B complex vitamins any grocery store will have. These will give smooth endurance to the muscles as they heal. Vitamin D to strengthen the bones and cartilage can help in long term recovery as well.
In the herbal realm, valerian is a great herb to loosen tight muscles. In fact it was what the drug Valium was named after. Turmeric reduces inflammation in and around the spine to allow healing nutrients to enter.
Here are some more stretches
Keep Working On It
Just remember to keep working on the things above. It's a constant battle to stay in good spine health. Rest, stretches, vitamins, pain relievers, and all that are the only way to keep it at bay.