The 7 Deadly Sins of Back Pain

Back PainDr. Jill Murphy, Physical Therapist, Licensed Athletic Trainer

7) Not using ice. Skip the Icy Hots, ointments, and creams, and skip the heat too. Chances are far greater that there is an inflammatory reason for your pain, so good old icing for 15 minutes, up to once per hour if you are in serious pain, will always help your pain and reduce swelling.

6) Sleeping flat on your back. Do you love to stand for 8-10 hours? Then why do that for your back? That’s the position you are allowing your back to remain in for every minute that you spend sleeping FLAT on your back. It’s too much extension for the spine to handle for too long of a timeframe. Add at least one if not two fluffy pillows under your knees, and you will find that getting out of bed is so much easier the next day (and you just may like sleeping on your back again!).

5) Sitting with both feet resting up on a surface with your knees straight. This position places a maximal stretch on your sciatic nerve, which may cause pain down your leg and numbness and tingling in your lower leg or foot. Instead, place one foot up with the other knee bent and alternate which leg is up every 15 minutes, or better yet, either recline all the way back or keep your knees bent with your feet flat on the floor when sitting.

4) Assuming that your recent low back pain flare has nothing to do with your increasing migraine frequency and duration. The highest curve in your spine reflects the curve in the lowest part of your spine, so if one is decreased, so will the other to maintain your trunk balance. Neural tension from increased strain in the low back can frequently wind up migraines, making them more frequent and intense than usual. Getting treatment for both is the only way to influence your nervous system to reduce your back and neck pain and headaches.

3) Bending to pick up items off the floor by flexing your spine. Don’t know if you are guilty of this? Find a full-length mirror and bend down to pick up your shoes off the floor. Your side view to the mirror will demonstrate whether you maintain your back in a straight line (like a board is strapped to it) versus flexing or curving your spine as you reach down for your shoes. What should your posture look like? Lead with flexing your hips like you are sitting down on a chair behind you, bending your knees as well, and allowing your trunk to reach a 45 degrees angle at the hip (not actually curving at the spine) to counter-balance you. If you feel your weight in your heels, you are doing it correctly!

2) Sitting on a long car trip without taking breaks. It is imperative to get up and out of the car at least once per hour if you have had any back pain in the past year, every 90 minutes if you have ever suffered from low back pain and/or sciatica. The tissue creep in the posterior discs (the place where everyone’s discs tend to degenerates) grows by each minute you stay in a flexed spine posture in sitting. Even if you adjust your seat perfectly and are not flexed at all in your spine, your degenerating spine (which occurs to everyone by age 30) needs the movement for adequate blood flow to maintain a healthy spine and sciatic nerve (the structure you are sitting on!).

1) Waiting for your back pain to go away. The latest research is all over social media that patients who get great care for low back pain right away save money and return to their full activities much faster, and avoid the use of addictive opioids! Did you know that chronic back pain is one of the leading reasons for work disability? Why wait? If you have acute back pain that is not going away despite your best efforts for several days or a week, come directly to PT (in the state of Wisconsin, you do not need to see your primary doctor first)! If the pain is severe, stop by an Urgent Care on your way to PT, so we can reasonably help you with acute inflammation AND help you feel better!