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“Oh, my aching back!” Yep, we’ve pretty much all been there at least once. Question is, what to do next?

Right Away

First, especially if it’s a new or unknown quantity for you, make an appointment with your physio or doctor.

While you’re waiting to see them, right away, start spending a good amount of time practising your diaphragmatic breathing.

This applies to everyone, and it’s useful without exception, no matter what the case of your pain is.

The diaphragmatic breathing is so important because pain signals travel on the sympathetic portion of our autonomic nervous system, which is the “fight, flight, or freeze” portion. In contrast, diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic system, which helps calm down pain signals.

Next, What Helps 95% of People

Everything that follows is helpful in 95% of cases, in my experience.

While your back is still flared up, avoid any flexion in your lumbar spine (i.e. avoid rounding forward with your low back). Neutral spine is key right now.

If you have to bend or lift anything, at least widen your stance so that there is less flexion through the low back.

Next, loosen the front of the hips. You may possibly start with some foam rolling. Afterwards, definitely aim for some stretching through the quads and hip flexors. Again, the trick with any stretching is to avoid bringing in the low back.

Mobility-wise, again if you are able to keep it out of your low back, loosen up your t-spine, i.e. mid back area.

Getting in gentle movement frequently, such as walking, is very important to not further seize up. Keep it as pain-free as possible (remember that breathing bit!), but don’t let yourself stiffen up even further.

Around the House

If you’re in really bad shape, getting in and out of bed can be a serious challenge. While sleeping, consider staying on your back with a wedge under your knees for comfort. To get back up, make sure you roll through sideways to come upright rather than pulling yourself straight up as you would in a crunch.

Standing up from the toilet is often another challenge. Just plant those tripod feet as solidly as you can, apply your best core brace, and push your heels down as you rise.

And now that many more of us are working from home, consider standing if your desk setup will allow it. If not, see if you can pad underneath one knee and work from a half-kneel position.

I Don’t Want this Anymore!

Then later, once the flare-up has receded, we can carefully work towards preventing recurrences.

Now is the time for some movement improvement. Get a professional to check your mechanics, in particular your lifting techniques.

A steady focus on improving core strength is important. So is improving the mobility of your hips and low back, perhaps also your ankles (especially for those who walk uphill frequently).

One approach that’s still relatively new to me: strengthening the lower back while in flexed position. This must be approached with the utmost caution, but it can be an important aspect of preventing recurrences.

The Food Connection

The results may take a bit longer to show, but definitely consider your nutrition. While it’s out of my scope of practice to make recommendations, there’s an undeniable link between what we eat and our levels of inflammation — which contributes to joint pain.

And sorry, if your stomach is large, it’s pulling your spine forward so it will influence any low back discomfort. Another reason to consider tackling weight loss, if you need it, is to fall in line with new COVID-specific recommendation that immune systems function better if your waistline is less than half of your height.

De-spiralizing Yourself

And if you’re in the 5% of people this doesn’t help? Or you want to delve deeper for more long-lasting improvements? I suggest further exploring the spiral-ey lines in the body to figure out how to properly unwind yourself. One approach that’s making a lot of sense to me right now is the concept of getting stuck in a specific gait posture. The Postural Restoration Institute goes into this in great detail. On a more parasympathetic and intuitive level, something I bring into my own pain reduction methods is Jeff Almon’s innovative Ground Control protocol.

As always, contact me if you help deciphering or applying any of this! Please consider joining one of my “Oh, My Aching Back!” classes that run at regular intervals.