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Nhung Lê
Nhung Lê
Health

Got Back Problems? These Tricks Can Help

If your back is aching, try these simple exercises and solutions.

On a typical day, you can find us slumped over our computers like penguins searching for shrimp. It’s no wonder that up to 80 percent of us experience back pain at some point, making this the single leading cause of disability, according to the American Chiropractic Association. What makes back pain so complicated and frustrating is that there are so many factors that can cause it. Stare at your computer too long? Reach down to grab a pencil off the floor? Stressed out about work?

Yup, all of these (and way too many other things) may lead to back pain. Try these exercises and tricks to give your back a rest — but be sure to check with your doctor before trying them to be certain this isn’t a serious problem. 

Strengthen your glutes

Back pain may be caused by tight or weak muscles around your hips, explains Daina Patel, a chronic pain chiropractor based in Ontario, Canada. That’s why strengthening your glutes (the muscles around your bottom) will help. “We tend not to train the muscles on the side of our body as much, so this area needs some TLC,” Patel says. Try lying on your back, pressing into your feet and lifting your bottom (this is called a glute bridge), slowly raising and lowering 10 times. Then, lie on your side with your legs stacked, knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Place your head on your lower arm, which should be bent at the elbow to support your head. Keeping your feet touching, raise your upper knee without moving your hips, pelvis or lower leg. Return your upper leg to the starting position. Do this 10 times before switching sides. 

Follow an anti-inflammatory diet

Using food as medicine can help to cut inflammation and pain, says Ellie Heintze, a licensed acupuncturist who runs Starting Point Acupuncture and Wellness in Bothell, Washington. Heintze suggests adding foods with good fats such as salmon and tuna that provide omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation; or fruits that have low glycemic index levels such as dark berries. “They contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components that inhibit enzymes responsible for pain,” she says. Hemp seeds are another great food for those suffering from back pain, as they’re full of anti-inflammatory properties and healthy fats and may decrease pain and inflammation. 

Take an anti-inflammatory

A study found that short-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs will relieve pain better than a placebo. The primary drugs recommended are ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin or naproxen sodium (Aleve). They work by blocking the production of the chemicals causing inflammation. Essentially, they are similar to steroids sans the side effects. It’s not recommended that you take these anti-inflammatory drugs for more than 10 days unless they’re approved by your doctor. 

Do core exercises

Your core muscles anchor your spine and your lower back, so if they’re strong, you will be less likely to strain or injure your back muscles, says Christina Hector, a sports and family medicine specialist with Onyx Direct Care in West Orange, New Jersey. Planks, crunches and glute bridges are great to start.

Change your shoes

A very common cause of back pain is having shoes that don’t support your arch correctly, says George Young, a certified fitness trainer and president at Alamitos Physical Therapy Associates in California. The worst culprits: Flip-flops, heels and totally flat shoes. Instead, Young says, Joya shoes are a great option because they have a soft, flexible foot bed specifically designed to strengthen your feet to help with back pain. When you’re walking on these sneakers, the cushion in the heels increases the movement in your pelvis and lower back. The tilting in your pelvis and lower back stimulates those muscles, giving them a mini-workout to strengthen the area. Other brands that work similarly include Asics and Orthofeet.

Yoga

A study found that yoga is just as effective as physical therapy to treat moderate-to-severe chronic lower back pain. The participants in the study did 12 weekly yoga classes, and their pain reduction and physical function was similar to the other study group that did 15 physical therapy visits over 12 weeks. Lily Allen-Duenas, a yoga and meditation teacher and Wild Yoga Tribe podcast host, says her favorite yoga pose for lower back pain is Cat-Cow. This is a gentle, fluid flow where you get on your hands and knees and alternate arching and curving your spine. “Paired with the breath, this spinal movement helps bring the spine into correct alignment, and is known to prevent and treat back pain when practiced regularly,” Allen-Duenas says. “As it also stretches the torso, neck and chest, it’s a simple yet beautiful flow to help ease lower back pain.” 

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