1) Move it, Move it!
Keep it moving - within reason of course! Movement is key to avoid an increase in stiffness and a great way to improve your recovery time. Whether it is a gentle walk, some gentle movements like rotations/bends/stretches – it doesn’t necessarily have to be specific. And yes it's okay to bend - your spine is “strong” and it is designed to bend. Movement can come in any form that you feel comfortable at that time. Days of bed rest are long gone.
2) Stress and other factors.
Lower back pain doesn't necessarily have to be all musculoskeletal in origin. There are strong components of psychosocial factors at play. I know it is easier said than done, but don't worry! Up to 80% of people will or have had lower back pain at some point, and it will most likely get better. Let nature do its thing.
Stress can be a leading component in lower back pain - so try and find out your triggering factors and address them. Maybe it is through exercise, maybe through meditation/breathing techniques, or it could be through working on different coping strategies. There are plenty of ways in which people can help themselves. The one big thing though – don’t panic!! Fear and anxiety could only make it worse.
3) Sleep – quality over quantity!
Sleep is important, an estimated 67-88% of patients in chronic pain (pain lasting longer than 3 months) have ongoing sleep difficulties. (1) Exacerbations of symptoms are also often found in your general health and wellbeing.
Find a comfortable way to sleep - some gentle yoga or breathing exercises can be beneficial 30 minutes before you settle down to bed. Try to avoid the use of electrical equipment in this time before bed as well, as these have shown to affects the body’s natural sleep rhythm. Quality of sleep is paramount.
4) What about my scan results?
Current research has highlighted a lack of correlation between back pain and results of scans like MRI's, in fact - many people without lower back pain have very similar results on their scans - despite being asymptomatic (without symptoms). (2) Therefore, don't take your scan as gospel that you have the “spine of a 180 year old” for example, or you have “crumbling discs”. In this case - pictures DO NOT always speak a thousand words.
5) Finally, combine exercise with treatment.
Exercise (in whichever form you feel comfortable to do) is by far the best medicine, and with manual therapy (osteopathy, physiotherapy, chiropractic) in addition to this - it is a perfect combination for improvement now and in the future.
As Osteopaths, we are in prime position to acknowledge the affects of different factors of pain and injury, many people believe we are just "back specialists" but we can also help identify certain patterns, or give advice on things from diet and nutrition, exercise and stress relaxation. Trust yourself, and invest time in yourself.
Written by Mark Thiselton
(1) Patrick H. Finan, Ph.D.,1,* Burel R. Goodin, Ph.D.,2 and Michael T. Smith, Ph.D.. The association of sleep and pain: An update and a path forward. Journal of Pain 2013; 14(12): . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4046588/#R103 (accessed 17/6/2017).
(2) W. Brinjikji, P.H. Luetmer, B. Comstock, B.W. Bresnahan, L.E. Chen, R.A. Deyo, S. Halabi, J.A. Turner, A.L. Avins, K. James, J.T. Wald, D.F. Kallmes, and J.G. Jarvik. Systematic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration in Asymptomatic Populations. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol 2015; 36(4): . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4464797/pdf/nihms-696022.pdf (accessed 16/07/2017).