When to Worry About Low Back Pain


Fast Relief from the Doc

Doctors used to prescribe muscle relaxers for quick relief, but the drugs are
rarely prescribed anymore. They tend to make people tired and contribute
to poor muscle tone and coordination—just the opposite of what you really
need for back-pain relief. If you visit your doctor or hospital to be treated
for intense pain, you’re more likely to be given a drug called Toradol. This
powerful, prescription anti-inflammatory and pain reliever stops the muscle
spasms and relieves pain.

Tried . . .
In frontier days, a mustard plaster was a favorite remedy for sore
backs and aching joints.
. . . and true
Like capsaicin and other counterirritants, mustard delivers a warm, tingling
sensation that can distract you from deeper pain. To make a plaster, mix one
part powdered mustard with two parts flour, adding water until you have a
paste. Spread it on a dishcloth, then fold the cloth and apply it like a compress
to your skin. It can burn if left on too long, so remove it if you feel skin
discomfort. Don’t use a mustard plaster more than three times a day.

Perfect Your Posture

  • Look for the posture that places the least stress on your back. To do it,
    stand straight with your weight evenly balanced on both feet. Tilt your pelvis
    forward, then back, exaggerating the movement. Then settle into the position
    that feels most comfortable. Now “work your way up” your back, focusing on
    one area at a time. First concentrate on the area near your waist, then your chest
    area, and finally your neck and shoulders. Try to feel which position is least
    stressful and most comfortable. This is the position to maintain when you’re
    standing, walking, and beginning or ending any exercise.
  • When you’re sleeping, lie on your back or your side (unless you have
    sciatica). If you’re more comfortable on your back, place a pillow under your
    knees as well as under your head to relieve pressure on your lower back. Prefer to
    sleep on your side? Place a pillow between your legs. For anyone who has
    sciatica, the recommended sleeping position is on your stomach.
  • If you like to sit up in bed to read or watch TV, get a large foam wedge
    that couches your upper body in a comfortable position. For added comfort—and
    to keep your neck in the proper position—use a foam or inflatable neck support
    when you’re sitting up.
  • When you’re seated in a chair at the office or home, keep your feet flat on
    the floor, with your hips slightly higher than your knees. Use a lumbar support
    behind your lower back. The lumbar roll is a chair-width foam cylinder about
    five inches in diameter. You can improvise with a rolled-up towel, but the foam
    product is lighter, easier to position, and usually has straps that attach to the back
    of the chair.
  • Keep a foam wedge in the car and place it behind your lower back whenever you’re seated.
  • If you’re accustomed to walking around with a wallet in your hip pocket,
    take it out whenever you’re sitting. Even though it feels like a small lump, it’s
    big enough to tilt your backside, throwing your spine ever so slightly out of
  • When you’re standing at the sink doing dishes, or waiting in a long line,
    raise one foot higher than the other. In the kitchen, keep a low sturdy box or
    a couple of old books by the sink, and put up a foot while you’re standing there.
    Waiting in line, use a step or curb. (Think of the traditional brass rail in a bar,
    which serves the same purpose.) Periodically change position by putting up the
    opposite foot. This shifting of weight gives alternating back muscles a chance to

Rise and Shine

Each morning before you get out of bed, lie on your back and slowly
stretch your arms overhead. Gently pull your knees to your chest, one at a time.
To rise, roll to the edge of your bed, turn on your side, put your knees over the
edge, and use one arm to push yourself up as you let your feet swing to the floor.
Once you’re on your feet, put your hands on your buttocks and lean back very
slowly to stretch out your spine.

Do-It-Yourself Healing: Back Pain

The following exercises, from Kevin R. Stone, M.D., orthopedic surgeon
and founder of the Stone Clinic in San Francisco, California, are designed to
improve flexibility and strengthen the muscles that play a role in supporting
your spine—in your abdomen, along your back, and around your trunk.

A. Lie with your hands palm-down on the mat, directly under your shoulders, in a push-up
position, with your lower body completely relaxed.

B. Keeping your hips in place and legs relaxed, slowly raise your upper body until you can
feel the stretch in your back. Return to starting position. Repeat 10 times.

A. Kneel on all fours with your knees hip-width apart.

B. Keeping your stomach muscles tensed, arch your back, stretching as a cat does. Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat.

C. Now hollow your spine slightly, hold for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat.

D. Finally, sit back on your heels and reach your arms in front of you for a nice stretch.

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Slowly pull your right knee toward your chest
until you can feel a stretch in your lower back. Count to five, then slowly lower the leg.
Switch legs. Repeat 10 times, alternating right and left.                                  

Lying on your back with knees bent, raise your right leg and grasp the thigh near your
knee with both hands. Holding firmly, slowly extend that leg to raise it as high as possible.
You’ll feel the stretch in the back of the thigh. Hold for the count of 15. Repeat 5 times
with each leg.                                                                                                       A. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms out to the side.           B. Keeping your knees bent, slowly drop them to the right, using your right hand to
gently pull the top knee toward the mat. Hold for the count of 5. You’ll feel the stretch in
your back and hips. Return your knees to the starting position, then repeat on the other
side. Alternating, repeat 10 times.                                                                     A. Lie on your stomach with a rolled-up towel under your forehead. Without moving the
rest of your body, contract the muscles in your buttocks as if you were pressing your
pelvis down into the mat. Slowly count to five, then relax. Repeat 10 times.      B. Keeping your hips pressed into the mat, raise your right arm and, at the same time,
your left leg. Keep balance by tensing your stomach muscles. Lower the arm and leg to
the mat, then lift the left arm and the right leg. Alternating lifts, repeat 20 times.

NOTE: Do these on an exercise mat. Alternatively, you can use a wellpadded
carpet or rug. Perform the recommended number of repetitions, but
be sure to stop if you feel unusual discomfort or sharp pain

Sciatica: What’s the Connection?

The roots of the sciatic nerve lie near the base of your spine. They pass
through a tunnel in your pelvis called the sciatic notch, then come together
like separate lanes merging into superhighways—the two large sciatic nerves
that lead all the way down your legs. When the sciatic roots are pinched—by
pressure from a herniated disk, for instance—sensations of pain, tingling, or
numbness may extend all the way from your buttocks to your legs, feet, and
About half the people who have sciatica get good results from most of the
treatments recommended for lower back pain. If you have sciatica and don’t
get relief with these treatments, however, you should keep your doctor
informed. And tell your doctor at once if you start to have trouble
controlling your bladder or bowels. In a small percentage of cases (5 to 10
percent), doctors may recommend other procedures, such as surgery