Whether it’s your first time hurting your low back, or another episode, one of the first strategies most people employ is rest. But, is resting after you hurt your low back the right strategy, and how long should you rest for?
Injuring your low back will make you anxious. You may even find yourself worrying about missing work, if you’ll be able to get back to regular activities soon, and how severe your injury is. That’s why, in this blog, I’m going to answer your questions about whether you should rest after injuring your low back as well as some other common questions about low back pain and treatment.
Should I Rest After I Hurt My Low Back?
Although your initial intuition may be to rest, you may be surprised to find that rest is not indicated when you hurt your low back. In fact, immobilization and bed rest are contraindicated, in other words, they’re not helpful in recovering from a low back injury and may actually be harmful. So what should you do? After initially hurting your back, research says you should try the following:
- Avoid repetitive bending, twisting, and lifting movements
- Remain as active as possible and return to your normal activities as soon as you can.
- Consider wearing a lumbar support brace in the short term, research shows it helps to decrease pain and improve quality of life.
Although bed rest and immobilization aren’t recommended, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should maintain your normal activity schedule. If you’re exercising or have an active job, modifying these activities in the short term is a better strategy. A general rule to follow is that you should be to maintain your normal activities as best as you can and stop or modify those which increase your discomfort.
What Can I Do To Heal My Low Back Injury Faster?
Modify your ergonomic setup at work.
- With low back injuries, many times sitting is difficult and increases your pain. If this is the case, try standing at your desk or transitioning between sitting and stand for periods of time.
- Oftentimes, maintaining any position or activity (like using a computer) for long periods of time increased discomfort. Try taking “micro-breaks” every 20 minutes. Get up and walk down the hall, go to the bathroom, or get a drink of water.
Ice and heat can help with pain management.
- Research shows that ice is more effective at reducing pain initially. Using ice for the first 48-72 hours can help reduce acute pain.
- After 72 hours, research shows that ice and heat have roughly the same effectiveness.
- Heat is oftentimes better to loosen up tight and spasming muscles in your low back. It will increase blood flow, and subsequently the chemicals your body releases in the healing process.
Range of motion and isometric exercises.
- Moving into ranges of motion like leaning back and bending forward can be difficult at first. If you can tolerate them, it’s typically better to move towards the ones that are comfortable or don’t make your pain worse. A general rule is to move into ranges of motion (like bending, leaning back, leaning side to side, and twisting) that don’t increase your pain more than three points on a 0-10 pain scale.
- Isometric exercises are exercises that require muscle exertion but don’t require joint movement. A simple plank is a good example of an isometric exercise.
Should I see a Chiropractor After I Hurt My Low Back?
Seeing a chiropractor after you hurt your low back is an excellent treatment option. In fact, research shows that if you see a chiropractor first, you have better outcomes than if you saw another provider first. Not only are the results better, but chiropractic care is safer and more affordable than almost any other treatment. Chiropractors specialize in low back injuries and have tons of different treatments they can provide to speed up your recovery. I’ll familiarize you with some of the treatments chiropractors provide.
Chiropractic adjustments AKA spinal manipulative therapy for low back pain
Spinal manipulation is one of the primary treatments used by chiropractors. This involves putting a specific thrust into the spinal joints. This treatment accomplishes a few things:
- It’s clinically shown to reduce back pain.
- The treatment helps restore normal motion to joints that are stiff, painful, and dysfunctional.
- It helps you become more functional again, which gets you back to your normal activities.
Research shows that even if you’re doing conventional medical care (like NSAIDs), spinal manipulation improves your outcome. Treatments courses don’t have to be long, either. Guidelines suggest a 2-4 week trial of care for something like a low back sprain or strain. Patients showed dramatic improvement in roughly 5 visits in one high-quality study.
Exercises and stretches for low back pain
Low back pain stretches and exercises are one of the foundational pieces of recovery from a low back injury. The great news is that chiropractors are experts in knowing which exercises you should be doing, and which you shouldn’t. If you don’t have someone guiding you, you’re basically guessing and hoping that you’re doing the right ones. Depending on which type of injury you have, some exercises are better than others while some can actually make your low back pain worse.
Dry Needling and acupuncture for low back pain
Although it may sound scary or strange to you, dry needling and acupuncture may help relieve your low back pain. These treatments involve small needles inserted into areas of your low back that are tight and painful. Mechanically, this can reduce muscle tightness. It also releases chemicals in your brain and spinal cord that are your body’s natural pain relievers, like endorphins and enkephalins. It’s a safe treatment and isn’t as painful as it may sound, I’ve tried it and it really helped me.
IASTM (Graston Techique) for low back pain.
Instrument-assisted soft tissue manipulation (IASTM) is a treatment where the provider uses a tool to release and massage painful muscles. This is one way a chiropractor can treat the soft tissue component of a low back injury. Again, it may sound painful but it’s not and patients often report that it really helps. It’s so safe that almost anyone can try it, with just a few exceptions.
What’s the Best Thing To Do After I Hurt My Low Back?
The best thing to do after you hurt your low back is to see a chiropractor and get an exam and diagnosis. It’s hard to tackle recovering from a low back injury on your own. Once you’ve had a quality evidence-informed chiropractor examine your injury, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to do to get over it.
Typically, chiropractors use a combination of home care advice, active treatment (like rehab exercises and stretches), and passive treatments like spinal manipulation or dry needling/acupuncture. This is a better strategy than waiting and hoping or wishing it gets better. If your injury is too severe for these types of treatment, your chiropractor can refer you to the correct doctor to see.
Dr. Brianna Williams is the only Primary Spine Practioner (PSP) in the Raleigh, Cary, Apex area and has even more specialized experience in how to treat and manage low back pain and injuries. She has a passion for getting you pain-free and back to your normal life as fast as possible, and works hand-in-hand with other doctors should you need them.
If you’re dealing with low back pain or an acute low back injury, do the right thing and schedule an appointment below.
Dr. Brianna Williams DC is a chiropractic physician practicing at AccessHealth Chiropractic in Cary, NC. She treats neuromusculoskeletal pain and injuries using chiropractic manipulation, Graston Technique, and rehab exercise strategies. She holds a PSP certification from the University of Pittsburgh and is the only one with this honor in the Raleigh, Cary, and Apex areas. She's also experienced in treating pregnant women, especially those who're exercising and want to stay moving during their pregnancy.