The expression “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” is nothing more than a figure of speech. Another common saying you might have heard is “I threw my back out.” This one is more literal in the sense that it actually has something to do with spine-related pain. Often associated with serious and debilitating injuries, this statement is typically made when someone experiences sudden, sharp back pain, as may be the case when lifting a heavy box or twisting too far in one direction or another. If you’ve thrown your back out, here are a few things you can do.
1. Get Some Rest
Resting for a few days may give irritated muscles a chance to recover. This remedy is usually effective if the cause of the sudden back pain is a muscle spasm or an overextended back-supporting muscle. Make your resting more productive by spending some time relaxing while lying flat on the floor. Lying flat may take the pressure off nerves if a herniated disc is contributing to your pain since harder surfaces are better for the back than a soft, comfy bed.
Rest is only recommended for a few days. If you rest too much, your spine-supporting muscles could get weaker, which could make your pain worse, not better. Instead, opt for exercise, which primarily achieves two things. First, getting active can strengthen the muscles around your spine. Second, exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which are hormones produced within the body that naturally decrease sensations of pain.
3. Explore Physical Therapy Options
Acute back pain triggered by certain movements sometimes stems from structural issues such as herniated discs, spinal fractures, or nerves pinched for other reasons. If this is the case with your pain, various forms of physical therapy may ease your discomfort. Consider working with a physical therapist for recommendations based on the specific source of your back pain. Forms of physical therapy that may be beneficial include:
- Massage therapy to ease muscle tension around the spine
- Stretching exercises to target core muscle groups
- Epidural injections or nerve block injections
- Hot and cold therapy to ease inflammation and increase circulation (apply ice within the first 24 to 48 hours to reduce swelling, then switch to heat to boost circulation and stimulate tissue healing)
4. Take Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Start with over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen and ibuprofen. If OTC anti-inflammatory drugs aren’t cutting it, talk to your doctor about prescription NSAIDs that may be more effective. Some muscle relaxants and antidepressants are equally beneficial. Strong pain meds should only be used on a short-term basis.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
Dehydration makes it more difficult for beneficial nutrients to get to the parts of your spine or the soft tissues contributing to your pain. Maintain blood flow to your back by striving for at least 8 glasses of water per day. Make a habit of sipping water even if you don’t feel dehydrated.
Because sudden back pain can have many possible sources, there is no one standard treatment recommendation. However, you can minimize your risk of throwing your back out by paying attention to your posture, using your hips for support when you lift something, and warming up before exercising or working out. If you do have acute back pain, try the remedies mentioned above. If nothing helps or your pain becomes worse or spreads to nearby areas (e.g. arms, shoulders, hips, legs), see your doctor or a Los Angeles back surgeon.
If you need a top-rated spine surgeon, reach out to Dr. Hyun Bae at The Spine Institute, where we specialize in procedures such as spinal fusion and decompression surgery. Los Angeles patients can take the first steps toward living a pain-free life by calling 310-828-7757 today.