5 Tips for Pain Relief: What to Do When Your Back Hurts

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 1.16.24 PMWhen I hurt my back in December, I asked the Internet what to do and the answer was nothing. Well, almost nothing as everyone seemed to say to alternative ice and hot, while taking it easy for a few days or weeks as it heals itself. Backs always heal themselves, the Internet said, but I found that wasn’t quite true. If you hurt your back, here’s my absolutely non-professional advice on what to do.

1. Put ice on it asap. I missed this step until it was too late. I hurt my back preparing for a holiday party, which meant there wasn’t time to sit down with an ice pack. That was a mistake, which was clear the next morning when I couldn’t move without crying.

2. Take ibuprofen. This I did, but I only took two, which my doctor later told me was too low a dose to really help. She had me up to four Advil twice a day.

3. Heat it up! My heating pad quickly became my best friend. The heat loosened my back up and helped with the pain.

4. Get to your doctor! The Internet insisted this was pointless because most back injuries heal themselves, but on day five, when things were getting worse and even the tiniest moves had me screaming in pain, I called the doctor, and my only regret is that I didn’t call sooner. Luckily I didn’t need x-rays or an MRI because my spine wasn’t bothered by manipulation, and my doctor could feel the tear in my back. Even I could feel the damage in my back with my hand. My doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant, Advil, a heat pack, and physical therapy.

The key, my doctor said, was to make sure my back healed properly or else this could easily turn into a chronic problem.

5. Get physical therapy. This part could be skipped if you have an exercise plan, but physical therapy had two key components that helped tremendously: a massage and electrical stimulation. My appointments began with a massage to loosen the muscles on both sides of my spine, and spinal pressure to keep my backbone from stiffening. After that, I did my exercises, then I ended with heating pads and electrical stimulation to help strengthen my back muscles.

I was in physical therapy for three weeks, ending one month after my injury. I was still in tons of pain, but I had improved a lot, and was told I could try to get back on the treadmill, but only for a short amount of time and I had to walk slowly. Each morning I sat with the heating pad for 20 minutes before I was loose enough to shower and gently try a few of my exercises. Walking on the treadmill hurt, thus I put that off for another week or two.

The magical six-week mark came and went and I wasn’t better. The Internet said most back injuries go away in 6-8 weeks, but that wasn’t the case for me. I was still taking Advil, still doing my exercises, still being incredibly careful, and still reliant on my heating pad. Discouragement was setting in until I read the best advice the Internet had to offer. It was a government document, but after it read nothing like an American government document, I realized it was from Scotland. The bottom line was to get off your butt and move. The document said that if you wait to return to work or activities until your back is 100% better, then your back will never be 100% better. Your back heals though movement, not through rest. Of course, taking it easy is important right after the injury, but after that, backs need to move. This was my a-ha moment. This was my permission to push past the pain from stiffness and once I did, I found my back improved fast.

Now I am three months out from my injury, and while not 100%, I’m definitely about 97% and climbing. I still use the heating pad a few times a week to stay loose and do my exercises about the same, while finally getting back to full speed on the treadmill. I make sure not to stay in any position, especially seated, for too long, and I take breaks to get up, walk, and stretch. Tearing a muscle is intensely painful and it made me feel like a 90-year-old in need of a walker. Truly, 90 years could probably walk faster than I could at the time. This morning, I bent down under the counter on the backside of our kitchen island to pull out a heavy juicer. It was a simple act, but there was no way that I could have done it a month ago.

P.S. I am not a doctor, even though I lied once on a magazine subscription and used Dr. as an honorific. I wrote this because back in December, I never saw anything that encouraged me to go to the doctor or was honest that it’s a long haul back to healthy.

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