The first time I ever had my back go out on me was about 15 years ago. I reached around to the back seat of the car, pulled some kind of muscle and grimaced like a lemon-sucking baby. Later that day, I was standing up to use the bathroom and without warning, everything just seized up (thankfully post-stream). I dropped to the floor.
I knew I had to see a doc, who diagnosed me with a strained muscle. He gave me muscle relaxants and encouraged me to give it time and let everything calm down.
Besides my off-and-on dysfunctional relationship with fried pickles, I’ve been fortunate to live a healthy life. But this come-and-go back pain can get the best of me; lower back pain is often cited as the most prevalent kind of pain and reason for doctor’s visits. Over the last decade, my back has gone out after a sneeze, while putting on underwear and while playing old-man basketball (the most common source of my injury). Some say I should give up hoops, but what’s the point if I also can’t give up sneezing and boxer briefs?
I’ve tried lots of remedies to help relieve the pain when it flares up. (Disclaimer: The source of back pain varies from person to person. You should see a medical professional to assess damage and make recommendations.)
My favorite fix-its, in no particular order:
Ice packs work fine to calm down the area and make it feel better, but there’s nothing quite like the cold plunge at Gainesville Health and Fitness (about 55 F.) The calming of an inflamed back is worth the initial shock on the toes and privates. #IWearBooties
I’ve gone a couple times when I’ve hurt my back, and the combination of manual adjustments and some kind of vibrating electrical stimulation on the muscles has helped.
Tight hips and butt muscles are another source of lower-back pain. My favorite stretch came from UF strength coach Matt DeLancey. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and knees up. Put your right ankle on your left knee and pull your knee toward your chest. Repeat on the other side. I try to do this now to keep the glutes and hips loose, but it also works well as a reliever when my back is aching.
The great oxymoron of back pain is that one of the worst things you can do when you have back pain is stay still. But the last thing you feel like doing is moving. Walking in the pool offers the best of both worlds. It takes the pressure off, loosens everything up and gets you going without feeling like you’ll fall or make the pain worse.
When I went to see a pro for the second-worst back pain I’ve ever had, she didn’t work on my back. She wanted to work on the psoas muscle — a muscle deep inside the hips that gets tight when you sit too much. When she pressed on that muscle via the lower abdomen, my belly burned like the middle of a fireplace. That pain was as bad as the pain I came in for, but in the process, I felt everything release. I could barely walk when I got there, and I had to use a hiking stick as a cane to get out of the car and shuffle from the parking lot to the office. When she finished, though, I walked out on my own.
I really feel for all the folks who are hobbled with bad backs because they can be so debilitating. And I know all the things I should do — schedule another doc appointment, strengthen my core, use my standing desk more often, etc. After all, you never know when the next sneeze will be the one that knocks you out.
Ted Spiker (@ProfSpiker) is the chair of the University of Florida department of journalism, as well as a health and fitness writer. He is the author of DOWN SIZE, a book about the science and soul of weight loss and dieting.
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