The following home remedies are appropriate for anyone who is suffering from back pain due to tight, aching muscles or a strain. However, if you are experiencing pain, weakness, or numbness in the legs, or a loss of bowel or bladder control, see a doctor without delay.
Don’t take it lying down
Conventional wisdom once held that several days or even weeks in bed were the best cure for a sore back. However, a growing number of doctors today encourage patients to get up and around as soon as possible and to avoid bed rest entirely if possible. That’s because mounting research shows that lying down for an extended period not only fails to speed up relief of low back pain but may make it even worse. If you feel you must rest your aching back, the best position is lying flat on your back with two pillows underneath your knees. Never lie facedown, since this position forces you to twist your head to breathe and may cause neck pain. Make an effort to get up and move around, slowly and gently, as soon as possible. Any more than three days of bed rest could weaken the muscles and make them more prone to strain.
Applying an ice pack to the painful area within 24 hours of an injury can help keep inflammation to a minimum and ease discomfort by decreasing the ability of nerves to send pain signals to the brain. Place ice cubes in a plastic bag, then apply the bag on top of a thin towel that has been placed on the skin. Leave the ice pack on for 20 minutes, take it off for 30 minutes, then replace it for another 20 minutes.
Take a hot bath
If more than 24 hours have passed since the injury occurred, ice will not help reduce pain or inflammation. After that first day, heat may help increase the elasticity of the muscles somewhat, so try soaking in a tub of hot water for 20 minutes or more. Pregnant women, however, should not sit in a hot bath or hot tub for too long, since raising the body temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods may cause birth defects or miscarriage. If you are pregnant, contact your doctor for advice before trying a hot soak.
Invest in a new mattress
A soft, sagging mattress may contribute to the development of back problems or worsen an existing problem. If a new mattress is not in your budget, however, a three-quarter-inch-thick piece of plywood placed between the mattress and box spring may help somewhat. It’s not clear whether water beds offer any relief for back pain.
Get some sleep
Getting sufficient rest at night is important when your back muscles are strained. It’s best to lie on your side, with the knees flexed and a pillow between them. If you lie on your back, place a pillow under your knees.
Get a massage
If you’re lucky enough to have an accommodating spouse, friend, or roommate, ask him or her to give you a rubdown. As you lie face down on a bed or sofa, ask your masseuse to knead your back muscles. Local massage therapists may also make house calls if you don’t feel able to visit one of them. Check the yellow pages for listings or ask your doctor or a friend for a referral.
Much back pain is the result of muscles made tight by emotional tension. Learn and practice a relaxation technique, such as meditation, or try a deep-breathing exercise, such as closing your eyes, breathing slowly and deeply, and counting backward from 100.
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