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Reduced back pain with better habits?
Old 08-09-2015, 06:42 PM   #1
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Reduced back pain with better habits?

I whined to my doc and he gave me some back exercises which I've been doing. But what really reduced my back pain was stopping stupid things I was doing. Somewhat in order of priority:

1. Reduced upper back pain: Stopped looking down so much at my tablet while sitting in my easy chair. I bought this Nexus 7 tablet to reduce my time at a desktop PC. But I was looking down at it too much. There are articles on the web about this sort of thing but generally targeted at smartphones. So I didn't make that connection.

Since my tablet is light and can be held in 1 hand. It's easy to raise it to my eye level most of the time. I imagine people with laptops might have a similar issue.

2. Immediate reduction of lower back pain: One day DW suggested I start using a wash cloth to rinse the soap off my face instead of a deep bend over the sink. This worked like a charm.

Likewise any activity causing a bend just from the waist is verboten for me. I try to remember to use my thighs to bend down and get the newspaper or whatever.

3. Minor items: Short stints at gardening. Shorter stints at sitting in one spot. Good back support when watching TV at night.


I thought it would be good to mention this on the ER site in case others had something to share. This stuff is obvious ... after you realize it.

Any others out there with similar observations?
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Old 08-09-2015, 07:12 PM   #2
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Biggest thing I found that helped eliminate my lower back pain was putting a pillow between my knees when I sleep (and investing in a really good, firm mattress). I've always slept on my side, and if you do that without something between your knees, your hips rotate when your legs come together, putting stress on the lower back muscles all night long. I used to wake up with a pain in my lower back all the time, but since I made these changes, it is completely gone.

Of course, you still need to exercise your core muscles to keep them strong, and make sure you use proper technique to lift heavy things.
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Old 08-09-2015, 07:18 PM   #3
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1. Don't lean across your body to put dishes in the dishwasher.
2. Don't sneeze standing up.


Two of my worst back problems with these items, believe it or not
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Old 08-09-2015, 07:22 PM   #4
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Back pain comes from a wide variety of sources(disclaimer! YMMV).

I used to have minor back pain. What fixed it for me was two things: I lost weight and at the same time I got in a lot better shape - I now do specific exercises that strengthen my back. It makes all the difference for me. No more back pain. Very nice!

It's not necessarily easy, but strengthening your back can make a huge difference.

One of the many benefits of FIRE: you can focus on things that matter to you rather than spending all your time working!
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Old 08-09-2015, 07:27 PM   #5
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RAE, lying on your side is suppose to be a good thing for backs. I try to maintain a pretty straight body when doing this and put my head to the edge of my pillow. Also my pillow is medium filled to hopefully keep the alignment of the spine fairly straight.

I tried the pillow between the legs and it seemed to work OK but found that when I wanted to change sides it was very awkward and tended to wake me. But maybe over the longer term that would become easier.

What size pillow do you use? Can you shift sides easily?

EDIT: I looked up "Leg positioner pillows" and found, among others, this example: Amazon.com: Contour Products Cool Gel Infused Leg Pillow: Health & Personal Care

Now I see how one could shift sides while sleeping with a small pillow. Also this one might avoid the "too hot" issue.
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Old 08-09-2015, 08:02 PM   #6
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I have had back pain for many years and I have tried everything under the sun to try to ease it. Just recently I stumbled onto a product that has made a huge difference for me. It is called Soothe and Relax by Researched Nutritionals. I cant believe that after spending literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on every type of treatment available a couple of pills a day and my issues almost disappear.
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Old 08-09-2015, 08:26 PM   #7
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In 1978 I twisted my back somehow and spent three days in bed. My back hurt until 1997! When I left the Air Force, my VA physical revealed a couple of 'degenerative disk, but nothing that warranted a disability. Several times during the intervening years the pain was such I was out of commission for a couple of days at a time. In 1997 we bought a Serta Perfect Night mattress. We bought it because it was a good mattress not because I expected any relief of back pain. About a month or so after purchasing the new mattress I got out of bed and had no pain. I have had real pain since that date.
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Old 08-09-2015, 08:36 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RAE View Post
Biggest thing I found that helped eliminate my lower back pain was putting a pillow between my knees when I sleep (and investing in a really good, firm mattress). I've always slept on my side, and if you do that without something between your knees, your hips rotate when your legs come together, putting stress on the lower back muscles all night long. I used to wake up with a pain in my lower back all the time, but since I made these changes, it is completely gone.

Of course, you still need to exercise your core muscles to keep them strong, and make sure you use proper technique to lift heavy things.

I will go months where I feel like a crippled old man the first 10 minutes out of bed and then I will go months feeling almost youthful out of bed. I am sure not going to waste any money trying to find out what it is as. But when it is acting up the pillow between the legs may not be therapeutic in value, but it sure makes my back feel a lot better while in bed.


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Old 08-09-2015, 08:47 PM   #9
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4 1/2 years ago my back went into spontaneous, excruciating, spasms. It took a few weeks to subside, and I was left with debilitating sciatica every morning. I literally walked hunched over until about 10AM when the pains resolved.
3 things helped me: a leg pillow when sleeping on my back {this was a godsend when the sciatica was at its worst]: http://www.jobri.com/product/leg-wed...ge-ivory-strl/
A knee pillow for when I slipped over to sleeping on my side: http://www.jobri.com/product/leg-wed...ge-ivory-strl/
And, saving the best for last: a regular swimming regimen. I enjoy it, so it is not a task for me. And it was a slow but gradual progress. After about six months of regular swimming the sciatica was gone.
Incidentally, for me bicycling helps as well, but for others cycling can exacerbate back pain. I also "retired" from distance running, but as long as I keep my running to less than 6 miles at a time, I have no issues with my back.
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Old 08-09-2015, 09:55 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Lsbcal View Post
...
2. Immediate reduction of lower back pain: One day DW suggested I start using a wash cloth to rinse the soap off my face instead of a deep bend over the sink. This worked like a charm.

Likewise any activity causing a bend just from the waist is verboten for me. I try to remember to use my thighs to bend down and get the newspaper or whatever. ...
Everyone is different, but I'm going to present an opposing view to this. I think you may be trading a short term gain for a long term loss.

Yes, avoiding these motions might prevent an 'episode' of back pain, and I did this for some time, but IME, it only makes things worse. You should be able to bend over w/o problems, and if you can't, there is an underlying problem that must be resolved.

I felt as if by avoiding bending, I was just contributing to my muscles getting weaker and weaker and weaker, and what I needed was strong muscles. I finally convinced my doc to get me into Physical Therapy, and they stressed building up the core muscles. Since then, I've been doing a few minutes of core strengthening upon rising, before bed, and anytime during the day if my back feels tight.

After 3 months of this, it was night/day. I used to be soooo careful just bending over the sink to brush my teeth or wash my face, for fear it would bring on a muscle attack. Now, I don't even think about it. I can do things that I couldn't do ten years ago. And it just takes minutes a day.

But w/o a trained professional telling me to do this and that, I was afraid I'd hurt myself. But I never did hurt myself, just take it slow, build up your core, and one day you realize that an exercise that was near impossible is suddenly very easy, and you know you have strengthened your muscles. Much better than avoiding the issue, and going downhill.

-ERD50
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Old 08-09-2015, 10:18 PM   #11
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I agree with ERD50. Certainly you should do things like sit with correct posture, and lift with your legs rather than your back, but strengthening your core will go further to avoid problems. There are just too many times where you can't avoid doing something awkward. It may just be a little slip on the ice or reaching for something on a high shelf, that a strong core can handle without incident but a weak core leads to a back injury.

Sounds like you are doing both, which is good.
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Old 08-09-2015, 11:47 PM   #12
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Quote:
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...(snip)...
I felt as if by avoiding bending, I was just contributing to my muscles getting weaker and weaker and weaker, and what I needed was strong muscles. I finally convinced my doc to get me into Physical Therapy, and they stressed building up the core muscles. Since then, I've been doing a few minutes of core strengthening upon rising, before bed, and anytime during the day if my back feels tight.

After 3 months of this, it was night/day. I used to be soooo careful just bending over the sink to brush my teeth or wash my face, for fear it would bring on a muscle attack.
...
Interesting alternate idea, thanks. Maybe I should view my reduction in back pain as temporary bandaid. I have done some core strengthening stuff recommend as a first step by the doc. Did not seem to make matters much better.

I'm running around 20 mile/wk in the hills and am not at all overweight. So in good shape but is that "core" strengthening? Does the recommendation vary with the individual (age, condition, etc.)? Here is one take on that: Slide show: Exercises to improve your core strength - Mayo Clinic

I have to go on vacation very soon but when I get back I'm due for a physical. I'll make a note to ask the doc about getting into PT since I've been wondering about this route too.
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Old 08-10-2015, 07:05 AM   #13
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Back pain comes from a wide variety of sources(disclaimer! YMMV).

I used to have minor back pain. What fixed it for me was two things: I lost weight and at the same time I got in a lot better shape - I now do specific exercises that strengthen my back.

It's not necessarily easy, but strengthening your back can make a huge difference.

One of the many benefits of FIRE: you can focus on things that matter to you rather than spending all your time working!

Agree. Same for me. I had debilitating back pain just as I retired. I do back strengthening exercises every day now and my back is much better.
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Old 08-10-2015, 07:05 AM   #14
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I'm going with ERD on the core exercises (but I will still avoid excessive bending like gardening). But I like the advice about tablets. I almost always have a stiff neck and I have been reading with my had turned down. It will be interesting to see if I can remember to correct that.
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Old 08-10-2015, 07:23 AM   #15
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Interesting alternate idea, thanks. Maybe I should view my reduction in back pain as temporary bandaid. I have done some core strengthening stuff recommend as a first step by the doc. Did not seem to make matters much better.

I'm running around 20 mile/wk in the hills and am not at all overweight. So in good shape but is that "core" strengthening? Does the recommendation vary with the individual (age, condition, etc.)? Here is one take on that: Slide show: Exercises to improve your core strength - Mayo Clinic

I have to go on vacation very soon but when I get back I'm due for a physical. I'll make a note to ask the doc about getting into PT since I've been wondering about this route too.
Running doesn't help my core much, and I'm more like 50 mile/wk. I used to get a sore back sometimes after running, especially the morning after a long run. When I started doing core exercises that went away. I used to do crunches, but those seem to be out of favor now so I do planks. I may look at adding some of those other exercises you posted. I notice it still shows crunches so I may bring those back.

Edit: Running does help with overall fitness and keeping your weight down, so that's good. Weight off your gut helps the back out. But it also puts a certain amount of pounding on the spine. If problems continue, you might even want to try power walking for 2 weeks instead of running and seeing if that helps.
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Old 08-10-2015, 08:00 AM   #16
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April 2008 - I hurt my lower back, could barely move, took a prescribed muscle relaxant and was back to "normal" within a week. My job required travel, which implies lifting suitcases, strange cars, some hotels with not great beds etc.

April 2010 - I hurt my lower back, could barely move, took a prescribed muscle relaxant and was back to "normal" within a week.

April 2012 - I hurt my lower back, could barely move. I was concerned about getting hooked to these drugs and just took Tylenol or Advil. It took more than 3 weeks to get back to "normal".

I decided I needed to do something to prevent these problems.

May 2012 - took Beginner's yoga in a studio. It was a bit strange initially, only guy plus 12 ladies but decided this was for my health and not about them.

Been doing yoga 2 times a week since then, slowly increasing my flexibility. Have not had back trouble since then, maybe luck, but also maybe yoga.

Of course yoga may not be for everybody. I have heard Tai Chi is also very good for old age and flexibility. Just do what you are comfortable with.
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Old 08-10-2015, 08:01 AM   #17
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I used to have terrible lower back issues. I had the privilege of working with a old fashion D.O. who still did manipulation. He was big on weight loss and strength. Took a while but I haven't had issues since I beat "Dunlap disease". He gave me some specific exercises to do but in his opinion the weight was the bigger issue. YMMV.
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Old 08-10-2015, 08:50 AM   #18
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... is that "core" strengthening? Does the recommendation vary with the individual (age, condition, etc.)? Here is one take on that: Slide show: Exercises to improve your core strength - Mayo Clinic ...
Those are a pretty good representation of the kinds of things I've been doing.

One I didn't see, that I think was key for me was, start out similar to the top photo here:



but with back flat against floor. Lift feet a bit off the floor, then slowly extend your legs straight, and return. Repeat 10x, I sometimes do the 'bridge' in between these.

When I first started those, I could barely do them. I needed to put my heels on a piece of cardboard to let them slide, and barely get them off the ground, I mostly just took some of the weight off. After ~ 3 months, I suddenly realized I could do them easily, it was not hard at all like when I started - I think this was the 'a-hah' moment for me about just how weak those muscles had been.

-ERD50
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Old 08-10-2015, 08:52 AM   #19
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A lot of very good info here. Obviously as you get older, you have to start treating your back better. The worst thing you can do is twist while lifting something heavy or stand in a position slightly bent over (like you would while washing your face in the sink or working on a car slightly bent at the waist.) That puts tremendous strain on the disc right at the point where you are bent.

Besides avoiding certain movements, the best thing you can do for your back is a routine of stretching (yoga is great but not necessary), building up your core muscles (stomach and lower back) and walking. Walking 1 mile per day will make a massive difference.

You don't have to do intense Yoga 7 days a week or do 1000 sit ups or crunches every day. You just have to do some mild to intermediate stretching, some moderate core exercises and regular walking.
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Old 08-10-2015, 09:20 AM   #20
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TAKE YOUR WALLET OUT OF YOUR BACK POCKET!! Sitting on your wallet, skews your hips.

That plus a good Chiropractor and daily stretching.
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