If you injure your lower back and/or experience an acute lower back pain episode, what you do in the first few days is often critical to making a full recovery. Further, your initial response can make a huge difference in determining how long your recovery might take.
If you know what to do, and just as importantly, what not to do, it can make all the difference. I have a blog post on the longer-term strategy for healing lower back pain and sciatica, first posted on August 12, 2009. If you are dealing with lower back pain or sciatica and you have not read the post, I recommend it. See the link at the bottom of this post.
There is a lot of good information on long-term steps for you in that post. All of it comes from my own real-world experience in dealing with a severe lower back injury many years ago, and from my experiences in working with many of my clients. However, from the many questions I have received since that post, I realized that there was room for still more information, specifically about what to do during the first few days.
When your lower back is first injured, it is crucial to avoid doing ANYTHING that might further injure it. This sounds obvious, but what it means in a practical sense may not be so obvious. For example, in the first few days is stretching a good idea?
In most cases, stretching during the first few days following the injury is not beneficial and actually poses a risk of further injury. During the first few days, even the gentle stretching such as might be included in even a mild Yoga session can be damaging.
Here’s why: When the lower back is injured, the muscles in the area tighten up dramatically. This may even be severe enough so that it feels like a muscle spasm. Obviously, this contributes to the pain that you feel.
However, this tightening of the muscles surrounding the injured area has an important function. It is the body’s way of “self-splinting” the injured area to limit movement and prevent further injury. This is one reason why stretching soon after such an injury usually is not a good idea. Doing so would be working at odds with the body’s attempt to protect itself .
CAUTION: If you have have injured your back by falling, or in some other way that could involve a fracture or other serious injury, be sure to seek appropriate professional evaluation and care as soon as possible. Falls can result in cracked vertebrae, and such injuries should always be evaluated by a qualified health care professional as early as possible. Keep in mind that in some cases, no impact is required to cause a serious back injury. Lifting something the wrong way, carrying something that is simply too heavy or that is an awkward load can be enough to damage a disc or cause other serious injury. If there is any possibility, at all, that there is injury to the spinal cord, that constitutes a true medical emergency requiring immediate evaluation and emergency medical treatment.
Assuming that you have ruled out a fracture, spinal cord injury, or anything else that requires emergency medical attention, what can you do in the first few days? Again, I would avoid stretching, especially if moderate stretching causes any pain. This is a time to really listen to your body.
Here are some things you can do to reduce pain and discomfort and to accelerate your healing:
1. For the first 24 to 48 hours following the injury, applying ice to the injured area should help. It will help to limit swelling and inflammation and may help to reduce pain, as well. As often as practical, try applying ice to the affected area for about 10 minutes, then leave it off for about 30 minutes. For comfort, separate the ice from your skin by a sinlge layer of cloth that is equivalent in thickness to a t-shirt or a thin towel.
2. Apply one of the homeopathic topical creams that contains Arnica to the effected area. I like Traumed, which is available at most health food stores. I keep some in my home first aid kit. If you use DMSO for this injury, be sure to separate the application of anything else from the DMSO application by at least 6 hours. (See the link below for the article on “How I Fix Up Sore Joints” for more information on how to safely use DMSO. The article was written about healing sore joints, but it applies equally well to sore backs.
3. Try gentle movement of the injured area. Be very careful to avoid ANY movement that increases the pain. For example, if you are able to get up and walk around just a little bit without increasing the pain, that will help.
4. If you have a good quality Calcium supplement, (one that is balanced with appropriate other minerals and trace elements so that it can be absorbed and utilized), then temporarily increase the daily amount by about double. This is generally OK to maintain for a week to 10 days. Please be cautious in choosing a calcium supplement. Many of them are made from calcium that is not bioavailable and that can actually cause calcium in places where you do not want them, such as in the walls of arteries. Here is one that is known to be safe and effective: The Truth About Calcium Supplements
5. For pain, consider using one of the many self-hypnosis programs that are available. These will not only help to reduce the pain, but they will help to speed your healing. I love the program called: “Rapid Pain Control” by Carol Erickson and Thomas Condon, available from The Changeworks. It is brillaint and highly effective, even for extreme pain. Rapid Pain Control from The Changeworks
6. Have someone vigorously massage the bottoms of your feet. Even if they are not trained in reflxology, if they massage the bottom of both feet, they are bound to cover the reflexology points that will help to reduce the pain and help your back to heal faster, as well.
7. After the first 36 hours it may be helpful to shower, alternating hot and cold water. Do this only if you can safely get in and out of the shower, without risk of slipping or further aggravating the injury. I turn the water up as high as I can stand it and let it beat on my back for about 30 seconds. Then I change it to completely cold for about 20 to 30 seconds. I go through this cycle several times. This drives the blood supply deep into the tissues and then pulls it out towards the skin again. Alternating between deep and surface blood supply helps to clear out damaged cells and to reduce inflammation. Do not do this for the first 36 hours, as that can increase inflammation. In fact, no heat should be applied during the first 36 hours. I usually do this hot and cold cycle about 3 or 4 times. If you do this, plan to completley rest for the next few hours in order to get the full benefit.
8. A skilled chiropractor or osteopath may also provide helpful treatments during this initial period. These can help to relieve pain as well as promoting faster healing.
9. One or more visits to a skilled acupuncturist may also help you to deal with pain and discomfort if the above self-care steps are not enough. (I am not in favor of most over-the-counter pain medications. Almost all of them put you at risk of liver damage and other serious health problems.)
10. Here is an unusual but often very effective measure for getting significant relief from just about any physical pain: Take a small amount of bioavailable organic sulfur crystals, (approximately 1/2 a teaspoon is a good amount to start with), and brush your teeth with it. Believe it ro not, this can be extremely effective in bringing rapid pain relief. For more about this measure and how it works, please see this post: Organic Sulfur For Nearly Instant Pain Relief
Once you are all of the way out of crisis mode and are moving toward resuming normal activities it is time to work on flexibility and strengthening the muscles that support and stabalize your back.
Healthy flexibility is key in helping to make a full recovery and in helping to prevent such injuries in the future. I recommend a program created by Pavel Tsatsouline, which involves teaching your muscles to relax rather than stretching tendons and ligaments. Stretching tendons and ligaments can actually make you more vulnerable to injuries.
If you can work with someone trained in Pavel Tsatsouline’s methods that is highly worthwhile. If not, you can still get his book and use it to learn the techniques – “Relax Into Stretch”. (This is a completely new approach to flexibility, that is radically different form any other I have seen or tried. I believe that done properly, it is by far the safest program for increasing flexibility, and it enables you to obtain the fastest and most profound results. Well worth tracking down.)
Here is the link, promised near the top of this post, to the article on How I Fix Up Sore Joints. It contains information on how to properly use DMSO and MSM to reduce pain and inflammation and to speed healing. This works great for sore joints and for sore backs.
Note: The Organic Sulfur that we offer is from “The Cellular Matrix Study”. With more than 100,000 study members, world-wide, “The Cellular Matrix Study” is the world’s largest human health study of the effects of Organic Sulfur and sulfur deficiencies.
Although the Organic Sulfur in pure crystal form that we offer is technically Methyl Sulphonyl Methane, we do not refer to it by the over-used name: “MSM”. This is because almost all forms of MSM on the market are either of very limited efficacy or not effective at all. A few are not even safe. Reasons for this are explained in detail in the Organic Sulfur posts on this site.
Here is a simple test that you can use to disqualify most of the MSM on the market: If you dissolve some of the MSM product in plain drinking water and then let the water evaporate, and crystals are not formed as the water evaporates you can rest assured that the MSM will not be effective. Unfortunately, even if crystals do form that does not guarantee that the MSM will be effective. But this test will disqualify most of the MSM on the market.
The Organic Sulfur we offer on this site is private labeled in order to help get you the best possible price and to assist you in confirming that it is from the highest quality source possible, (The Cellular Matrix Study.)
Finally, here is a link to a previous blog post on how to properly strengthen your lower back in a way that will reduce the likelihood of future back injuries. The approach discussed in the post also will help you to complete your recovery. This part of your recovery should only be started once you are completely out of crisis mode, and are well on your way towards fully resuming normal activities. The central element of this method involves strengthening specific muscles that are all-to-commonly neglected, even by fitness fanatics. You may need a knowledgeable trainer to teach you how and to get you started. If so, consider printing out the post and having your trainer read it so they will know exactly what your goal with them is:
Over the years I have made it my business to collect feedback on this important health topic. I look forward to yours.
To your health!