Getting Your Back on Track

After your back is injured, you will want to learn new habits. Once you're feeling better, improved posture, practicing back-safe lifting techniques and a fitness routine (and weight loss, if necessary) will all help to keep your back healthy. However, before you start to use your back, it must first heal.

Bed rest, ice and heat

If your back pain is severe, stay in bed, but no longer than two days. Prolonged bed rest weakens your back and deconditions you overall. Make sure you get out of bed and walk around a few times a day.

Apply ice then heat - in that order. In acute muscle strain, the ligament holding the muscle to bone is stretched to the point of tearing. Blood rushes in to repair the tendon, resulting in pain over the muscle. Ice helps to soothe sore muscles and reduce the area of pain. Thus, for the first few days after injuring your back, apply an ice pack to the painful area for about 20 minutes at a time, a few times each day. Wrap a towel around the ice bag, so that only the towel contacts your skin over the painful area.

Muscles also tighten or spasm in response to injury. It is your body's way of blocking off a certain muscle group to permit repair and, as research shows, as a secondary method to protect the spine. Once the pain is reduced, apply a heating pad for about 20 minutes at a time for several times a day. Heat further reduces the pain and tightness.

Pain medications

Over-the-counter, nonprescription pain medications are helpful. Be careful. All aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can lead to stomach bleeding. Each has other associated hazards. Always read product labels first. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions. All of the following drugs, except acetaminophen (Tylenol®), reduce inflammation:

Aspirin: Bayer®, Bufferin®, Ecotrin® and others. Use with caution if you have a bleeding disorder, expect to undergo surgery or if you have asthma, ulcers or gout.
Tylenol®: Acetaminophen. Only reduces pain, not inflammation. It is safer for the stomach. Taking more than indicated can cause liver damage, especially with alcohol.
Ibuprofen: Motrin®, Advil®. Can cause stomach bleeding. Avoid if you have aspirin allergy, have liver or kidney problems or you are on blood thinners. Talk to your doctor first.
Naproxen: Aleve®. Lasts for about eight hours, about twice as long as other analgesics. Do not use if you have ulcers, heart failure or kidney failure or if you are on blood thinners.
Low back red flags

Call your doctor if you have:

Tingling, weakness or numbness of either leg.
Pain down the leg.
Weakness.
Gait problems.
Loss of bladder or bowel control.
Nausea, vomiting, fever, chills.
Severe pain after injury, such as in a fall or automobile accident.

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