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Dealing Safely with Mechanical Low Back Pain

Back Pain is one of the most common ailments and has a range of different causes. We know mechanical low back pain is high on the list of reasons for you to experience back pain.

Man bent over in pain to the L side of his back

Introduction

Mechanical Low Back Pain could develop along the course of routine activity. We think this could result from a sprain or mild injury to the tissues including the muscles and ligaments that make up the lower back.

This could be from poor posture, lifting heavy objects, a fall down the stairs, while playing at home/sports or another injury etc.

Unlike the non-mechanical causes of low back pain, the treatment is usually allowing the tissues involved to heal over time with support - so major treatments like surgery are not involved.

Rather, physiotherapy and some pain medications will be recommended as well as fairly simple treatments at home that are quite effective.
 

In this post, we explore what we can do by ourselves at home - after having been correctly diagnosed with mechanical back pain.

This is key - because there are other causes of low back pain that can be quite serious or need urgent treatment and therefore the following tips WILL NOT apply.


What To Do with Mild/ Moderate Symptoms At Home

Ice and Heat

Following the development of back pain from some of the scenarios described above, you could apply ice using an icepack (home made frozen bag of vegetable from the freezer wrapped in a towel).

Doing this several times a day - for 15-20mins at a time can help to reduce pain and inflammation.

After doing this for a few days, switch to heat packs to increase blood flow to the area (encouraging healing), and relax the muscles.

A warm bath can help deliver this too.

With heat packs - also avoid directly applying the source (e.g. hot water bottle), directly to your skin to prevent burns.

Exercise

What to do with exercise can be confusing to some people. The key thing following a sprain injury is to AVOID lying still

Doctors no longer advise 'bed-rest' after a sprain because we know it can make back pain worse or even cause complications.

While we do not recommend high impact activties like running, cardio, and other aerobic activities or weight lifting; it is important to get up - and slowly - start moving about again.

Stretching is good practice - walking, yoga and swimming are also good exercises that can help maintain the flexibility of muscles and other tissues while the sprain recovers.


Rubbing Creams and Gels

This is a popular measure for treating back pain at home and there is a wide range of different agents that are sold over the counter for this purpose.

Primarily, the active treatment here is the medicine contained in the creams/gels; as most people applying them may not be able to offer a treatment massage.

It's better to apply/rub the medicine gently into the affected area as pressing or massaging vigorously especially in someone who is not skilled may cause more pain.

Usually, the medicines contain anti-inflammatory agents like salicylic acid, Ibuprofen, or menthol-based products.

Some of these cause heat generation over the area which does the same job as the heat packs described above; while others are cooling gels.

Other Over-The-Counter Medicines

Lastly, other medicines like paracetamol or Ibuprofen tablets/capsules can be purchased for use to control some of the pain at home.

Please follow the recommended dose ALWAYS.

For medicines like Ibuprofen, remeber never to have them on an emoty stomach.

If there is no benefit from these medicines after 72 hours, seek medical advice.

Non-medication devices that may provide some help - lumbar supports, heat lamps etc


Conclusion

Don't forget to observe and maintain good posture - walking, sitting; or when lying in bed.

For bed rest, the following might help because a poor sleep position can worsen back pain:

  1. A comfortable firm mattress
  2. Using a pillow between the knees if you lie on your side could help keep the spine in a neutral position and relieve strain on the back
  3. If you sleep on your back, a pillow placed under the knees may do the same.

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Editing by AskAwayHealth Team

Disclaimer

All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly through info@askawayhealth.org

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