Apr 21 2017

5 Ways to Manage Lower Back Pain at Home

5 Ways to Manage Lower Back Pain at Home

According to the Global Burden of Disease 2010, one of the most prevalent reasons for disability is lower back pain. In the United States alone, about half of our workforce is suffering from low back pain or admits to having had back pain. Most are mechanical low back pain, and not caused by diseases like inflammatory arthritis or cancer.

Among the patients with lower back pain, about 5% to 10% of them also suffer from sciatica symptoms, and those with sciatica, about 90% of the cases are caused by nerve root compression due to a bulging or herniated disc.


What is the difference between low back pain and sciatica?

Lower back pain is localized pain in the lower back. Most lower back pain is usually resolved on its own and goes away with time even without treatment. The pain is acute and commonly caused by a from of muscle strain due to improper posture, incorrect lifting, and abrupt spinal movements. These cause the muscles and ligaments to rapidly stretch and the small fibers tear from the unexpected stress.

There are two types of lower back pain – acute and chronic. Acute low back pain lasts for about a month to three months, but if the back pain persists longer than that, it’s already classified as chronic back pain.

Sciatica, though low back pain is also a symptom, has a radiating-type of pain that shoots down the leg and is described as a burning and throbbing sensation. The main cause of sciatica is compression of a lumbar nerve root resulting from bulging discs, spinal stenosis, and pinched nerves.

  • Bulging discs usually develop as we age. What happens in this normal aging process is that the intervertebral discs lose their water content, and their nucleus pulposus, the disc’s gel-like center, becomes more fibrotic. When weight is placed on the spine, the disc will bulge out of its normal position and impinge the nerve exiting from the vertebral body and cause pain.
  • Spinal stenosis is also a normal aging process and is characterized by the narrowing of the spinal spaces. Causes of spinal stenosis include degeneration of the ligaments, development of bone spurs due to arthritis, bulging and herniated discs, and compression fractures of the spine. All these can cause narrowing of the spaces and lead to nerve impingement and subsequent pain.
  • Pinched nerve is simply a nerve compressed by its surrounding structures. This can be from a ligament that has lost its elasticity and bulged into the spinal canal, a bulging or herniated disc that impinges the nerve, or small spinal fractures that did not heal properly and developed bone spurs.


Are there home exercises and treatments that can help relieve back pain?

Pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, and muscle relaxants are usually prescribed for patients with back pain and sciatica. Unfortunately, these medications are contraindicated in patients with liver diseases and allergies to the compounds found in these medications.

There are some remedies and exercises though that you can do at home which can help relieve both your low back pain and sciatica symptoms.


Cold and Hot Compress

During the first 24 to 48 hours of an acute back pain attack, the best home remedy is to apply a cold compress over the area for about 20 minutes each period. The cold compress can decrease inflammation and, at the same time, reduce pain.

After 48 hours, apply a hot compress to the area. This will facilitate vasodilation and speed up the process of flushing away the cells’ waste products. Increased blood flow also brings fresh, oxygenated blood and nutrients to the injured area which helps the tissues heal faster.

Of note, be sure to wrap the cold and hot packs with towels to prevent burns.


Herbal Remedies

If you can’t take over-the-counter medications, you can try herbal remedies to help control back pain and sciatica symptoms. There are some teas that help relieve pain and, at the same time, promote muscle relaxation.

Chamomile tea can help decrease your back pain by relaxing the muscles, while ginger tea helps reduce inflammation. To get the best benefit, you can purchase them fresh from your local grocery store, instead of buying boxes of these teas. Brew fresh chamomile flowers or boil ginger slices till the water boils and then add some honey to the tea. Honey also has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation.


Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is perfect for people suffering from acute and chronic back pain. Not only does it promote vasodilation as the muscles relax and allow blood to flow more freely, but it also relaxes the tight, sprained back muscles. Massage therapy also improves sciatica symptoms, especially if the cause of your sciatica is tight tendons compressing the lumbar nerve roots.

There’s one type of massage therapy called spinal manipulation that’s perfect for sciatica. It is a combination of physical therapy and massage therapy that involves gentle manipulation of the spine to relieve pressure points and release nerve compression.

Of note, spinal manipulation is performed by licensed health care practitioners.


Gentle Stretching Exercise

People suffering from low back pain and sciatic symptoms will benefit from gentle stretching exercise. Stretching not only warms up the muscles in preparation to the more rigorous back exercises, but it also helps improve flexibility.

With a pillow under your head, lie flat on your back with your knees bent to decrease pressure on the spine. Now, with both hands, grab your knees and slowly pull them to your chest. Hold the position for about 20 seconds and then release. Repeat the process 15 times.


Gentle Strengthening Exercises

Weak back muscles can result to poor posture, which is one of the causes of back pain. Weak muscles affect the stability of the spine, and it also forces you to adopt a protective posture, one that doesn’t elicit pain.

To improve back posture and strengthen back muscles, you can do gentle strengthening exercises. With stronger back muscles, you will have better spinal stability and posture. Here are two strengthening exercises for your back:

  • Lying on your back with knees bent and arms by your sides, gently push your back till it’s flat on the floor. Hold the position for about 10 seconds and then release. Now, using your leg muscles to push off the floor and your arms to stabilize the position, slowly lift your lower back. Hold the position for 10 seconds and then release. Repeat the process 10 times.
  • This exercise relieves the compression on the lumbar nerve root and helps ease sciatic pain. In a sitting position with your legs stretched straight out, slowly lift your right leg and place your right ankle over your left knee. Gently bend your trunk forward to stretch the muscles of your back and buttocks. Hold this position for about 15 to 30 minutes and then release. Repeat the process for the left side.

These home remedies can help relieve your back pain and sciatica, but if the symptoms persist that it can no longer be controlled by meds and home remedies, it’s time to see a back specialist. To learn more about back pain and treatment options, visit us at

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Douglas Won, M.D.

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The first in Texas to perform micro-endoscopic laser spine surgery with an incision as small as 3 mm, Dr. Won advises multiple international spine technology companies and has helped design many groundbreaking tools for the minimally invasive spine surgery industry.

Dr. Won also innovated the Pain Mapping procedures, this diagnostic study helps to pin point the pain generator so that we can provide the least invasive spine procedures, LuMINI.

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