After experiencing some serious back issues for close to 2 years, I’ve tried almost everything when it comes to easing my back and hip pain. From medications, to physical therapy, to stretching, to dry needling, to meditation to massage to changing to a standing desk.… well, you get it. I’ve done a lot.
While some therapies and modalities are expensive, you have other choices too. There are lots of things you can do for yourself that are simple and low cost and that can make a big difference in your chronic aches and pains. It is essential that YOU take control of your low back pain, as there is rarely a quick fix. No one can “fix” you until you buy in to helping yourself.
Before we go over my favorite tools, here are a few relevant facts about low back pain:
( For a really detailed overview: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5395891/ )
Fact: 80% of us will experience some kind of chronic back pain during our lifetimes. The majority of low back pain has NO ONE definite pathology ( ie cause). It’s an accumulation of genetics, stress, injuries and more.
Fact: Your likelihood of back pain increases with age.
Fact: People with a history of depression or anxiety are at greater risk for chronic low back pain, as are those with “fear avoidance”. “Fear Avoidance” means that the person exhibits increased or prolonged pain symptoms based on the fear of pain and excessive worry and attention to it. I can really relate! This is why it is so essential YOU take control, and not let PAIN take control of you.
Check out this Fear Avoidance Model https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Vlaeyen-Linton-2000-Fear-Avoidance-Model_fig2_292450147
Fact: Self Care, physical therapy and exercise manages most back pain very well.
Fact: Doing nothing gets you nowhere. Just tolerating pain does not change it.
The fact is that 65 million Americans have experienced back pain. 16 million have chronic long term back pain. Obviously, given the prevalence of this world wide problem, we should not feel alone! I hope that one of my favorite tools for decreasing pain will help you.
Here’s my favorite 4 tools to ease your pain:
Vibrating Massagers /Massage Balls-
There are tons of new massaging tools on the market that have been shown to reduce pain and tension on a short term basis, and are a great alternative to medications. One of the most effective tools I have used, besides the normal myofascial release tools like foam rollers, balls and massage sticks, are vibrating or percussive self-myofascial release tools.
Theragun is the top of the line percussive tool, used by physical therapists, chiropractors and professional athletes. At $240-$400, it is out of my price range, and the very vigorous percussive nature of the tool is not for everybody. Women with osteoporosis should not use this tool as it is contraindicated due to risk of fractures.
I personally prefer more of a vibration than percussion, and have used vibrating foam rollers and massage balls. Some of these tools are very expensive, like the” Hyperice 1 Hypersphere”, which costs $149. Ouch! Instead, for a much lower cost tool, my favorite is the Tuofang Vibrating Massage Ball.
At $38 or so, it is very affordable. The massaging ball is rechargeable, has 4 speeds, and can get into small muscles as well as larger spots. It can be used against the wall, or on the floor lying on the ball, or sitting on the ball. It has given me tremendous temporary relief, and allows me to then stretch, mobilize or strengthen things with my newly relaxed muscles
Of all the tools I used for my back and hip pain, this produced the best pain relief. A TENS Unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is a small wearable device that has 2 electrodes you place surrounding your painful area. The unit itself sends an electrical “buzz” that over rides the pain signals. I found it extremely helpful and it reduced my pain to 0, from a 6 or 7. The unit I bought was from CVS, but can be found online for around $50.
TENS Units can be adjusted for intensity and kinds of signals. I did not like how it felt on my calf ( where my sciatica traveled) but it worked fabulously for my glute and back pain. In fact, by using it on my back and glute, it also relieved my sciatica. TENS Units do not work for all kinds of pain, and may not work for you. But at $50, it’s worth a shot. What price is a pain free life?
Ice Pads/Heat Pads-
Many people lose sight of the importance of cold or heat therapy. I have written extensively on this topic in another blog; Ice or Heat? Which is Better and When? but I wanted to reiterate the importance and ease of using these therapies for pain. One affordable tool I really like is the Thermacare heat patches. These are filled with the same component as hand warmers, and can be applied to the skin for some mild relief. I often wear one when golfing or walking in the cold. This is different than a lidocaine or icy -hot patch. Those patches have medicine in them which enters the skin for soothing relief. I found little relief from these pain patches, but others swear by them. Try a variety of these patches for your pain. And for home use, Get a moist heat pad you can microwave. Get a cold pack that is re-usable. Get a heating pad to compliment your moist heat. They can provide amazing relief if used for the right issue at the right time.
Standing Adjustable Desk-
Lastly, while all the above help to reduce pain in the moment, you also must consider doing something that changes the habits that are keeping your pain alive. Most of my back pain occurred after periods of sitting at my computer and in the car. While I couldn’t control my driving ( I do use a lumbar support, which really helps), I could control my sitting at home. Here I was, doing all kinds of great PT, great stretching and core work at home, but then I was sitting 2-3 hours a day, literally undoing all my hard work. So, I decided to try a standing desk to get myself out of the loading of my lumbar spine from sitting.
After doing some online searching, I realized that there was a huge variety of standing desks, but didn’t want one that was large or cumbersome. I wanted something that could easily be adjusted and not occupy too much space. I didn’t want to invest a lot of money either, as I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it.
I found a great desk by Anthrodesk –AnthroDesk: Ergospring Standing Desk Converter- Extra Wide. Anthrodesk has other models as well, but this worked great for me. Easy to set up, easy to adjust, it was still super sturdy. It has a spring loaded mechanism, so you can raise it and lower it very easily. And at a really decent price, it’s well worth the money.
It has made a huge difference in my back pain and hip tightness. I enjoy being upright in standing. And I am much more likely to move around from a standing position than a seated position. This is important. Getting out of static postures quickly and easily is a big deal for reducing pain. I’ve noticed that my mid back is less rounded. Lastly, of course, we do burn more calories standing than sitting, so there’s that too. If you sit for work, I can not recommend a sit-stand desk more. I’m hooked for sure.
Pain relief is within your control in many cases. You may find you reduce your pain by 50%, or you’re your efforts mean less frequency of pain on a daily basis. Instead of relying solely on expensive procedures or pain medications, it’s essential that you work to help yourself. DO speak with your MD, and if you find there are no contraindications to these tools, and your MD has not been able to resolve your pain well, try these out! Let me know how it goes?