Dammit, my back hurts, too!
And it sucks. Back pain is horrible. Is this post I want to recommend some stretches and a couple different things that have been helpful for me, as well as point out what was NOT helpful for me. Here’s the topics I’ll be discussing:
- chiropractic care
- TENS and electric stimulation therapy
- natural sleep aids
- pain medication
- physical therapy and stretching
A lot of people have found success with chiropractic care. I went to my chiropractor for a year. He was a really great guy and believed in what he was doing, but those adjustments did not do anything for me. In my experience I cannot recommend chiropractic care.
BUT I did learn about something while I was there that was awesome for my back: electric stimulation therapy.
Electric Stimulation Therapy
You might have seen this before. It looks a bit something like this:
Pictured here is an EMS unit that uses Electrical Muscle Stimulation to relax your muscle.
What I used is really similar but uses something called “TENS”, a nice little acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It sounds scary but it’s not. I love it. I’m almost certain my doctor had either a TENS 3000 or a TENS 7000, but it either way, I know first hand that people with back pain can benefit from TENS therapy because it was really helpful for me.
A couple of notes though:
- Electric stimulation therapy doesn’t permanently fix or address the root cause. It just makes the pain go away.
- If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, consider that this is exactly what muscle relaxers or pain killers do, but with electric stimulation you get results without any side effects and without the possiblity of pain pill addiction.
- I felt pain relief immediately when the electrodes were all attached and we turned the machine on. It feels really weird, like a thousand little energetic pricks working your skin – but somehow that feels good to me, but I can see how it would be mildly uncomfortable for others.
- However, some people don’t feel pain relief until 20-30 minutes after their TENS session is over.
- There are two ways that this works to stop back pain. One is that the body responds to electric stimulation by releasing endorphins, whichjust make you feel good. Yeah! The other is that the electrical current interrupts the communication between your brain and your back, in a way jamming the “pain signal.”
If you’re curious, click here to check out a list of TENS / EMS machines here for home use..
Yoga is fantastic for back pain, but I will admit I never stuck with it past a couple of months. What can I say, I’m lazy.
But the yoga video I did use was called Budokon Yoga. It’s awesome in that it is geared towards beginners and doesn’t go too fast, nor too slow, or do anything too crazy. I really like this Cameron Shayne guy’s overall approach to teaching yoga in this video. If you’re curious, you can check out the DVD here..
Melatonin and Other Safer Sleep Aids
My guess is you’ve been in the situation where your back pain made it hard to fall asleep.
No surprise there, as severe back pain can be one of the causes of sleep deprivation. It’s an incredibly frustrating position to be in; you’re exhausted, your back hurts, you toss and turn, which often aggravates the pain in your back, and you’re so tired but you just can’t sleep because of the pain, and you’re asking yourself over and over, “Why does my back hurt? Why does my back hurt?”…
While it’s not really a “professional solution”, I started taking melatonin when I suspected I might have problems sleeping. Melatonin is a natural sleep aid and for me never had any side effects, other than the one I wanted: helping me fall asleep faster. =) It’s not really a herb, but I’ve written a bit more about this in a post on 15 herbs that help you sleep. Note it does not to get rid of back pain, but it can act as a little boost to push back discomfort and fall asleep.
What about Pain Medication?
There were definitely times when I needed medicine for pain. It works and when you’re in pain, honestly that is all you are about. That being said though, I’ve always been weary of any ongoing prescriptions for back pain medication (percocet, flexeril, oxycontin, etc) because in the long run the potential for abuser and addiction is just too damn high. There’s also the problem of needing more and more the longer you take it.
Additionally, it can make you feel really out of it. My first day in college I was determined to not be distracted by back pain so I took some percocet. I hadn’t taken any in months and its effects were super strong. I spent the whole day in a daze!
I still use something like 5mg or 10mg of percocet this when flying. I have been caught more than once in an uncomfortable seat in a crowded plane unable to move or stretch for hours and it was pure hell. Never again will I let this happen.
I think the most appropriate use of pain killers and muscles relaxers when it comes to back pain is if they are part of an overall treatment plan that addresses the root of the problem or at the beginning of your journey when you just want the pain to go away and you’re trying to figure out what’s wrong.
But granted, I’m not a doctor, so don’t be taking this as professional medical advice, okay?
Physical Therapy Exercises and Stretching
Out of all the stuff I’ve done when my back hurts, what made the biggest difference by far was just doing physical therapy stretches. I’m convinced that the month I spent at the Carolina Back Institute doing stretches with a physical therapist twice a week did more than entire years worth of back adjustments from my chiropracter.
My back problems relate to the L1 portion of my spine, so I suspect that the stretches relieve muscles tension in this area and make my muscles strong. I honestly don’t really know if that’s what’s happening but I know performing these stretches was a turning point in my quest to heal my back.
I’m thinking about doing a separate blog post detailing the back stretches and exercises I did that involved my hips, legs, abs, and lower back. Would you guys be interested in seeing this? Because this article is already over 1,000 words and I want to know if anyone is even reading before I keep going. =) Let me know if you’ve found this article helpful and would like to read more!