I Have Back Pain - Now What?
You may know right off the bat that a specific incident caused your back pain - I once had a very telltale “uh-oh” moment during an outdoor yoga class that tweaked my back and had me in pain for about six months. In these types of instances, you are most likely dealing with Acute Back Pain. You can certainly go see your doctor; it’s always a good idea to check in with a healthcare professional. Just be aware that, initially, the doctor needs to rule certain things out (some of which take time to resolve), so they may not have suggestions outside of self-care.
Even if you aren’t aware of a specific incident that caused your injury, there are steps you can take to try and alleviate your pain if it is new.
Over the counter painkillers can help tremendously to relieve Acute Back Pain; make sure you follow the directions on the bottle. Try an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen (eg. Advil); this will help in cases of strains and sprains as well as nerve pain, relieving inflammation around the spine.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, people who stay active through their back pain are more likely to make a quick and complete recovery. Avoid anything that causes a lot of pain, and take it easy if your pain is severe, but as soon as you feel able, try to move around. Take a short walk even if it’s just around the house. Depending on your job, consider returning to work even before you are completely pain-free. This can also serve as a distraction from the pain. Bed rest is no longer thought to be the best way to recover.
Another measure that may ease back pain is Hot and/or Cold treatment. Some people find that a hot water bottle placed directly on the affected area helps alleviate pain. An ice pack or frozen peas, again placed directly on the affected area, may be soothing as well (ice packs or frozen vegetables should not be placed directly on the skin; use over clothes or wrap it in a towel). Some people find the most relief by alternating between hot and cold treatment.
Maintain a relaxed and positive outlook. This one is crucial! Stress leads to muscle tension, which can make your condition worse. Ideally, you could incorporate breathing exercises or yoga (I know, my yoga story from earlier, but I hurt myself because I was trying to do some handstand that was too advanced for me - gentle yoga is very helpful for stretching and relaxation) into your daily routine. Find breathing exercises from Time Magazine here, and gentle yoga for back pain in the Yoga Journal, here.