Low Back Pain Q&A

Nearly everyone has had or will have a low back problem at some time in their life. Whether it’s a little discomfort or something more serious like a disc problem or a spinal fracture, the prevalence of lower back pain is astounding. The World Health Organization estimates that 60-70% of those in industrialized countries will experience non specific lower back pain in their lifetime, with that number rising. At Complete Game Physical Therapy, we see many patients with lower back pain - anyone from youth athletes to the older population. With that in mind, I thought I would review some of the common questions I get about lower back pain here.

  1. Should I just rest it? Bed rest used to be the common recommendation for cases of back pain. Recent research has shown us that this may not be the best option. The Clinical practice guidelines from the American College of Physicians now strongly recommends those with low back pain stay active. The same goes for the National Institute of Health whose recommendations are to return to daily activities as soon as possible and perform light stretching while avoiding movements that aggravate pain.

  2. Should I use ice or heat? This is a question I get all the time and the answer is really “it depends.” People’s bodies tend to react differently to ice or heat; some may tolerate heat really well and not ice, and for some it’s the other way around. I tend to tell people what ice and heat actually do and typically when each works best. Then they should try for themselves and see what works best for them.  

Heat is a vasodilator which will increase blood flow to the area. This is good to improve mobility but will also increase inflammation to the area. Heat tends to work best if you are feeling stiffness, in the morning and before exercise.

Ice is a vasoconstrictor which will constrict the blood vessels and push blood and inflammation from the area. This will help reduce inflammation but also will increase stiffness in the area. Ice tends to be used best in the presence of pain, at night, and after exercise.

3.) What about “Icy Hot” or “Tiger Balm?” These are topical analgesics which can help temporarily reduce the pain but do not fix the underlying problem. These treatments will dull the superficial nerve endings that send pain signals to the brain and can be helpful to help you sleep or move a little better. These treatments should be only used temporarily while you are returning to your activities and working on what caused the problem in the first place.

These are a few common questions I tend to get in the clinic relating to lower back pain and some strategies to help. If you are experiencing lower back pain, you should be evaluated by a qualified medical professional and set up on a treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms and get you back to the activities you love. At Complete Game Physical Therapy, we specialize in the treatment of athletes and active individuals with any musculoskeletal problem including lower back pain. If you need help, call us today at 978-710-7204.