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Q&A: Beating back pain

Insights from Tom Starbard, DO

Back pain
Q: I overdid it in the yard. Now my back is killing me. What can I do?

As long as the pain isn’t extending into your legs and you’re not having problems emptying your bladder or bowel, try gentle home treatment. Ice packs can reduce inflammation and help numb the nerves. A heating pad can relieve milder pain. If you’re not sure, stick with ice. Either way, gentle stretching can help, too.

Q: Should I rest in bed until my back stops hurting?

Prolonged bed rest is not a good idea. Your body needs movement to stimulate blood flow, which is helpful for back pain. If your pain is severe or shooting down your legs, you should get it checked out. Otherwise, try the tips above. A bath with Epsom salts could help, too.

Q: How can my doctor help?

Your doctor can check for more serious problems and refer you for treatment if your pain is severe or self-care isn’t helping. If your condition isn’t serious, your doctor can offer reassurance and can coach you on home care. Sometimes, back issues just take time to get better.

Q: What are the best ways to avoid back trouble?

These are my top three:

  1. Exercise regularly. Moving your body relieves stress, keeps off extra pounds that can make back problems worse, and keeps your whole musculoskeletal system in top shape. Do a variety of activities and movements to exercise all areas of your body and back.
  2. Maintain good posture. Slouching or hunching forward puts stress on your back. If you work at a desk, mix up your sitting arrangements throughout the day, switching from a chair to a yoga ball to standing. If you have access to a sit-stand desk, that’s a great way to avoid staying in the same position all day long.
  3. Use proper body mechanics. Lift with your legs, not your back, and don’t twist your back while lifting.
Q: What stretches and exercises can I do to strengthen my back?

Core-strengthening exercises can be very helpful. We’ve posted an illustrated page of Lower-Back Stretches and Strengthening Exercises on our website. On our Health Resources page, you’ll find it under Orthopedics.

Q: Can yoga help with stubborn back pain?

Yes! We Americans don’t stretch enough, and tight muscles can get very painful. Yoga and other stretching exercises (tai chi, qi gong, pilates) help reduce muscle tension and improve blood flow, which is great for your whole body.

Tom Starbard, DO, is an osteopathic physician at The Portland Clinic. He has been named a “Top Doc” by Portland Monthly.