Over 65 million Americans suffer from back pain. Not surprising given our sedentary culture and how much of the body the back covers. Back pain can occur in the cervical spine (the neck area), the thoracic spine (mid-back) and the lumbar spine (lower back).
I, myself, have dealt with pain in all three areas, with lingering pain tending to occur in the thoracic and lumbar regions. My back started to degrade over my two years of investment banking – sitting 18 hours a day will do that to you. Lifting / cardio-ing / training martial arts at least five days a week for the last 10 years couldn’t have helped either.
I, like many other Americans, didn’t know how to best address this issue. I went to chiropractors (who probably made matters worse), acupuncturists (which did nothing) and massage therapists (many don’t know what they are doing). After finally putting the time into researching and testing alternatives, I have found these five methods that have worked for me:
Lacrosse Ball / Foam Roller
For immediate relief, nothing beats the lacrosse ball for myofascial release. It is something you can use on-demand – anywhere and anytime. It works better than massage, because you know your body best and you know where to focus on. From my experience, 8 out of 10 times when I tell my masseuse about a specific issue, she spends minimal time on it or totally ignores it. On the other hand, you know yourself best and know where your knots are.
If you want to maximize pressure, roll your back or neck with the ball using the floor as your base. This way you are able to use the full force of gravity. The issue, however, is that you lose control as the ball may not always move the way you want it to move.
Personally, I prefer to use a wall. I am able to generate enough pressure against the wall, rolling the ball back and forth on my knots until they release. I am also able to maintain a high degree of control with the ball, whether I am working on my neck or my back.
I also have a foam roller that I use from time to time. Although it is effective for the back, I feel the lacrosse ball works better because I am able to generate more concentrated pressure with it.
This video is a good demonstration of how to use the lacrosse ball effectively.
Stretching / Yoga
Stretching and yoga have been great for me for dealing with back pain. One of the key reasons for lower back pain is tight hips. After every workout involving my lower body, I make sure to do the requisite lower body stretches afterward with a special focus on the hips. The difference in my back is noticeable, especially on the days I don’t do this.
There are a lot of great yoga stretches that provide relief for the back. As a former Bikram yoga practitioner, I am especially a fan of the rabbit pose, the half tortoise pose, the cobra pose and the wind removing pose, which you can all see in this chart from illbefit.com.
As an aside, with yoga, be careful with some poses (ex. fixed firm pose is probably not too good for your knees).
Cracking Your back
It’s tough to crack your thoracic spine or cervical spine yourself and I wouldn’t recommend doing so because doing so without a professional can be dangerous. I also question the efficacy of adjustments in those two regions.
For the lumbar spine, however, just sit in a chair, turn around, grab the opposite end of the chair and torque your back until you hear pops or just before you feel pain. Don’t be scared of the pops as these are a result of gas being released from the joints of the spine.
As I mentioned in my second post, I use my standing desk to get relief when I feel my back getting tight. One of the primary reasons sitting is responsible for back pain is because most people sit with bad posture. Even if you know what good sitting posture is, it is tough to maintain it for extended periods of time. I’ve noticed that it is harder for one to have as bad a posture generally when standing. Another reason for lumbar pain is because hips can get tight with hours of sitting – standing can help to loosen the hips up a bit.
Keep in mind that standing for extended periods of time can lead to back pain so I don’t recommend you stand all day either. It is best to rotate standing and sitting in a way that feels best for your back.
A mainstay of chiropractors’ and physical therapists’ offices, the TENS unit is the reason I kept on going back to the chiropractor’s office.
The TENS unit works by sending an electric current from the main device to electrodes that you place over the injured area. The theory behind the TENS unit is that it stimulates the nerves in a way that they block pain signals and release endorphins. With the TENS unit, you can generally play with the frequency, intensity and pulse width of the current to reach the right feel for your body.
Here is one you can buy for use at home:
Lifetime Warranty FDA cleared OTC HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS unit with 4 outputs, apply 8 pads at the same time, 15 modes Handheld Electrotherapy device | Electronic Pulse Massager for Electrotherapy Pain Management — Pain Relief Therapy : Chosen by Sufferers of Tennis Elbow, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Arthritis, Bursitis, Tendonitis, Plantar Fasciitis, Sciatica, Back Pain, Fibromyalgia, Shin Splints, Neuropathy and other Inflammation Ailments Patent No. USD723178S
Whatever you end up doing, I’d love to get your take on what works for you!
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