Lower back pain can have a number of causes, but in general, most back lower back pain is caused by a strain in the muscles in the lumbar region of the back. This is the inwardly-curved area of the back, just above the pelvis and below the diaphragm.
These muscles, like any other muscle, should be exercised regularly to maintain their strength and tone. However, a lack of exercise, combined with poor posture, can cause back muscle weakness. Excess weight can also place more excess strain on these muscles. So when we need them for lifting... ouch! That's when we experience the pain.
Many of us use prescription and non-prescription pain killers to deal with back pain. However, these drugs have side effects, and some can interact with other medications.
So what are some other options for dealing with lower back pain?
In this article we discuss four things that you can use which are very safe and quite effective. Unfortunately, not every product will work for every person. So a little trial-and-error is sometime needed. Fortunately, many of these ideas are inexpensive. So give them a try, and once you find something that works, stick with it!
I have one piece of advice before we get to the recommendations. That is, you need to manage your expectations with these types of products. By that I meant that it's unlikely that a single, 'magic' product will completely remove your back pain. If anything, these products are good at reducing the pain so that you're a bit more comfortable. Remember that the underlying issue needs to be dealt with by keeping those back muscles fit and healthy.
Idea #1 - Back pain patches
A patch is a large, thin bandage-like product that contains some medication, usually mixed in with the adhesive. When the patch is applied to the skin, the medicine leaches out of the patch and into the skin, providing pain relief right where it's needed.
There are several different medicines found in these patches:
Capsicum, or capsaicin - This substance comes from hot peppers, and provides a warm sensation to the skin when applied. A 'hot' patch works really well for chronic lower back pain.
In fact, if your lower back pain feels better when using a heating pad, then a hot capsaicin patch can act as a substitute for the heating pad when a heating pad is not convenient.
A capsaicin patch is a great alternative to capsaicin cream, since you do not touch as much of the product and risk getting it in your eyes.
While these kinds of patches may help you feel better, they do not help relieve any inflammation which may be causing the pain. A capsaicin patch is good for things like muscle strain, soreness, and lower back muscle pain. Capsaicin patches may also help fight sciatica pain. So it really depends on the kind of lower back pain that you are experiencing.
Camphor and Menthol are aromatic compounds found in nature. Like capsaicin, both camphor and menthol can help you feel more comfortable, and with less pain. However, neither camphor nor menthol fight inflammation. They are good alternatives to capsaicin, especially if you find the capsaicin too 'hot' or too irritating.
Methyl salicylate is used both for pain and inflammation. It is related to aspirin, and is quite strong. However, one of the nice things about a patch containing methyl salicylate is that you don't have to worry about it upsetting your stomach!
If you are allergic to aspirin, or if you take any prescription medication that interacts with aspirin, then check with your pharmacist before using back pain patches containing methyl salicylate.
So, as a general rule, the choice of patch depends on the source of pain. If it's muscle related, capsicum or camphor/menthol patches should work well. If the problem is pain AND inflammation, you should use an anti-inflammatory patch that contains methyl salicylate.
Idea #2 - Lumbar Supports
A lumbar support
, or lower back support, encourages us to sit in a proper position, maintaining our posture. This means that the muscles in the lumbar area are not stretched or compressed in an unnatural way. If anything they can relax, which could then bring relief for lower back pain.
The lower back support is also a good compliment to other therapies, such as back pain patches, topical pain relievers, and heating pads.
Lumbar supports come in many shapes and sizes. So our general recommendation is to look for lumbar supports which:
Can fit on nearly any chair
Can be adjusted in some way
There are air-filled lumbar supports on the market which meet these criteria. Air filled lumbar supports are great because they are fully adjustable to your particular need. Just make sure the support is firm, as too soft of a lumbar support can cause you to slouch and sit in an unnatural, unsafe position.
Think carefully about buying expensive office chairs with lumbar supports. Many of these supports are minimally adjustable. So they may not provide the proper support that you need.
A small, portable, adjustable lumbar support that you can strap onto any chair is frequently a cheaper and better option.
Idea #3 - Topical Pain Relievers
The term topical simply means that it is applied directly to the skin, and not taken by mouth. Topical pain relievers can come in the form of gels, creams, lotions, and oils.
These types of products are an excellent way to achieve quick relief from sudden lower back pain. They are also a great compliment to both over-the-counter and prescription oral pain medications.
Also, many of these products come in a convenient roll-on form, which is perfect for applying to the lower back and other hard to reach areas of the body.
Topical pain relievers are also good when used in combination with massage for muscle strains, fibromyalgia massage, and other massage-related treatments.
While there are many brands of topical pain relievers, many of them have some common ingredients. These ingredients are very safe, and can come in gels, creams, lotions, sprays, etc. Typically, these products start to work relatively quickly, but the pain relief does not always last very long. Fortunately, these products are so safe that they can be applied 3 or more times a day without any issues.
BioFreeze- This classic pain reliever, especially the roll on, is a perfect supplement to oral pain killers. In other words, if you need a little extra relief, BioFreeze is a good option. It works especially well for neck pain, shoulder pain... just about anywhere that you can reach with a roll on!
Sombra Warm and Cool - Sombra Warm and Cool are similar. Like BioFreeze, they are available as a convenient roll on. Note that Sombra warm has a small amount of capsaicin, which is a really good way to provide some warmth to a lower back, knee, or other painful area.
Elmore Oil - Elmore Oil contains extracts from eucalyptus and the tea tree. This combination was scientifically proven to contain both pain relieving and anti-inflammatory compounds. This is a huge advantage for Elmore Oil over other topical pain relievers.
This makes Elmore Oil perfect for not only muscle pain (where inflammation is less of a problem), but also for osteoarthritis of the back.
Old Goat - Old Goat is another oil product which contains extracts of various herbs. The pain relief comes from extracts of pepper (containing capsicum) and peppermint (containing menthol). Old Goat does have a very strong, but pleasant scent. So if you enjoy aromatherapy, Old Goat is an excellent pain reliever.
Plus it works great on insect bites and poison ivy itch!
Traumeel - A very different product from the ones mentioned above is Traumeel. Available as a gel and cream, Traumeel is a blend of extract from various plants and herbs. Traumeel has been used in Europe for decades for pain and inflammation in arthritis, osteoarthritis, and other pain and inflammation conditions.
Traumeel is also commonly used as a pain reliever by Olympic Athletes across Europe. It is also a popular product for those who have repetitive motion at work. Many chefs, for example, apply Traumeel Gel after work to relieve the pain from hours of cutting and cooking.
The gel form is a good choice for lower back pain, as it goes into the skin quickly, and the scent is very mild.
These are but a few examples of topical pain relievers. Check with your pharmacist for some other possible ideas.
Idea #4 - TENS
TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is a well-established technique for treating back pain.
As the name suggests, TENS systems send mild electrical impulses to the muscles. This causes the muscles to gently exercise, stretch, and relax.
Most TENS systems require a prescription and extensive training for home use. However, there are a few excellent, high-quality TENS systems available over the counter for home use. They can be worn underneath the clothing, and some have sophisticated remote controls to both control use and prevent over-use.
Lower back pain is a complex condition to treat. In the long run, weight loss and exercise will ensure these muscles stay fit and ready for any unusual use, such as lifting.
However, when the pain does arrive, an array of treatments may be needed in order to reduce the pain. A lumbar support are a great way to maintain proper posture, and they can be used in combination with back pain patches and heating pads. Try to find an adjustable lumbar support that can be used on any chair.
A topical pain reliever is good to deal with any sudden lower back pain, and can be a good compliment to an oral pain reliever. Lastly, TENS devices are a little-known method to deal with chronic pain.
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