You’ve just injured your back while lifting. The pain increases by the minute. What should you do? The way you treat your back in the first few hours after a back injury can minimize your pain, prevent further damage and help you avoid surgery.
Here are Dr. Zapf’s best tips for home treatment of an acute back injury:
Don’t Panic. After any physical shock or injury, the body initially needs rest. Stop your activity and let your backrest. I’ve had many patients who have felt a “kink” or “catch” in their back while exercising or working around the house. They’ve continued their activity hoping to work out the “kink”. In just a short time, they’re unable to move because of excruciating pain.
Relax and Breath Easily. The intense muscle spasm that accompanies back injuries can be reduced with simple relaxation techniques. Lay on your back or side (see instruction below). Let your jaw relax and your mouth fall open. Breathe easily, down into your belly. Try not raising your chest. Focus on slowly inhaling and exhaling. Focused, relaxed breathing will allow your entire body to unwind.
Keep Your Spine Straight. This will reduce strain on the joints and discs. Lay on your side with your knees pulled up to your chest. Place a pillow between your knee (this keeps the top leg from sliding down and twisting your spine). Alternately, lay on your back with a pillow under your buttocks. An elastic back brace can also straighten your spine and prevent unnecessary movement and aggravation.
Avoid Sitting. Sitting will tremendously increase the pressure on the lower back. Stay out of cars, don’t sit during meals (stand at a counter), and rest by lying down. Just don’t sit! It will kill your lower back.
Use Ice Not Heat. You’ll never see trainers using heat on the side lines of a football game. They know that heat will make the injury and pain worse. On the other hand, ice will decrease inflammation and muscle spasm. It’s best to use a gel pack covered with a cloth (don’t use ice packs directly on the skin, it can cause frostbite). Apply the cloth covered ice pack for 15 minutes; remove; repeat every two hours. With repeated ice applications, you should soon see improvement. (Avoid using heat on a new injury. It may feel soothing at first. However, it will make the inflammation and pain worse in the long run).
At this point, I want to caution you about certain types of back pain. If you have any of the following, you should go to your local emergency room for evaluation. You can join us later.
1. Neck pain, back pain and/or severe headache accompanied by a fever.
2. Mid to low back pain with burning urination and/or fever (with possible discharge of blood).
3. Sudden severe low back pain with rapid progression of tingling, numbness or paralysis of the legs and/or loss of bowel or bladder control.
These symptoms are pretty rare but serious enough to warrant your immediate attention.