It was a normal day. You were finishing a few errands after work before heading home, and then bam! it happens.
Maybe you were picking up a bag of water softener salt to put in the trunk. Or, maybe, you were just reaching into the back seat of your car to grab a sweatshirt. Whatever it was, you’re now in the middle of an agonizing back pain flare up.
Unfortunately, stories like these are heard frequently at HealthPartners Physicians Neck & Back Center (PNBC). We wish it weren’t so common, but you’re definitely not alone. Eighty percent of us will have to deal with back pain at some point in our lives. And about one in 12 of us will need to manage chronic back pain.
At PNBC, we focus on preventing and reversing back pain by strengthening the supporting muscles around your spine. When your back pain flares up, try taking these 3 steps that can help give you long-term relief:
- Stop what you’re doing. Bring your body back to a neutral position. That might be standing up straight. Or, if you’re in your car, turning your body back to facing the steering wheel. This is the early stage of the flare up, so the best thing to do is go home, ice the area and take it easy for a bit. If you’re unable to go home, try and find some ice, take ibuprofen or naproxen, and keep moving if you’re able to.
- Resume your normal daily activities. A common mistake at this point is resting too long. You need to move. Once the initial shock and pain of the flare up subsides, get up, move around and perform simple stretches to a point where you aren’t increasing pain or discomfort.Go back to your exercise routine but cut your weights back and lighten the workout. You might even have to cut the weights and exercises in half depending on the severity of the flare up. Focus more on movement patterns and performing your exercises in a smooth, slow, full range of motion instead of trying to reach fatigue. Fatigue is not necessary at this point in your recovery.
- Slowly increase your activity, and the intensity of it, every workout. Do this as you are starting to feel better and make sure to listen to your body. If the pain or discomfort isn’t improving, but isn’t getting worse either, keep your exercise the same and don’t increase until you notice improvements. It could take as little as a week to get back to your normal routine. Or, it could take as long as a month. The key is to be aware of the pain and monitor it to the best of your ability. If there are no improvements, or the pain is worsening, it’s a good idea to reach out to your primary care provider.
From my experience, the best way to avoid back pain is to focus on a preventative approach. You don’t want to start working on your back health once you have become injured. You want to strengthen your back so you are less likely to become injured in the first place. However, in the unfortunate event that you develop chronic back pain, Physicians Neck & Back Center is here to help you resume activity.
About Nate Bahr, M.Ed., CPT
Nate Bahr works with the CORE program at Physicians Neck & Back Center. CORE gives patients who have completed physical therapy at PNBC access to a specialized fitness center. Here, patients have the tools, resources and equipment to independently maintain the strength and mobility they gained through the PNBC rehab program. Nate has his Master of Education in Applied Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer. He is also a varsity track and field coach and enjoys living an active lifestyle by lifting weights and being outdoors.