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When your spine isn't fine: 9 tips for a thrown-out back

Ouch! We've all been there - that unexpected, sharp pain in your lower back that makes you wince and wonder what happened. Whether it was an epic gym session or a heroic attempt to rescue a rogue toy, sometimes our backs just say "nope!"

The good news? Most of the time, those thrown-out backs get better with a little TLC. So breathe easy, and check out these 9 tips to help ease the pain and get you back to feeling your best.

1. Apply ice.

As soon as a back injury happens, place ice or cold packs on the affected area to alleviate inflammation and pain and minimize potential tissue damage. Always wrap ice in a towel to protect skin and apply for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

2. Straighten yourself out.

While the pain may prompt you to stay put, it’s important to stand upright to prevent further damage. If a back injury happens while you’re bending over, there’s a right way to get yourself into a neutral standing position.

  • Slowly bend your knees and place hands on your thighs for support.
  • While keeping knees bent, lower your tailbone towards the ground.
  • Gently lift your trunk and extend knees.
  • Once your shoulders are over your hips, you’ll be in a neutral posture. Your back should feel long and not arched.
  • If there is a wall close by, stand against it for support.

3. Avoid movement that will worsen the injury.

Once you’re in a neutral posture, avoid bending, lifting and twisting. Any of these movements can cause pain and may worsen your condition. While it may be inconvenient, stability is the top priority.

  • If you need something picked up from the floor, ask someone to help.
  • If you are alone, gently move into a squatting position while looking upwards. This will ease the stress on your back.
  • If you need to lean forward, hinge at your hip instead of bending to keep your back straight.
  • When you can’t avoid turning, rotate your entire body rather than twisting spinal muscles.

4. Treat the pain.

Managing your back injury also means managing your pain. Over-the-counter medications such as aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol) will help relieve pain. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) will also help ease pain and swelling.

5. Practice self-care.

A little rest and self-care will go a long way to maintain back stability.

  • Lie on on your back on a firm surface and place a pillow under your knees to relax back muscles.
  • A special lumbar pillow or support can also be used to remove pressure from your back. A rolled up towel placed behind the curve of your lower back also works.  
  • Avoid lying on your stomach, which can put unnecessary pressure on your back.

6. Try yoga.

Research shows that yoga and stretching can ease pain and improve back movement. Just make sure you start slow and easy.

  • Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. If it’s painful to lie on the floor, you can also stand against a wall.  
  • As your condition improves, hug one knee to your chest while slowly straightening your other leg on the floor. Gently move the bent leg slightly away from and closer to your chest. Repeat with the other leg.

7. Ease into exercise.

As your back improves, gradually ease into more demanding physical activity. Just remember that it will take time to get back to where you were, but it can be done if you’re careful with your exercise regimen.  

8. Seek medical care.

Your injury may require more than home remedies and OTC pain relievers. If you can’t find relief or experience any of the following symptoms,  visit your nearby Indigo Urgent Care:

  • Inability to stand
  • Numbness in the back
  • High fever
  • Abnormal bowel movements

Indigo has more than 40 locations with onsite x-ray. Our friendly providers will assess your injury and provide a treatment plan to manage your specific symptoms. And if you need additional care, we’ll refer you to a specialist.

9. Be patient.

Even when you take the proper steps to care for your thrown-out back, healing takes time. And stressing over your injury won’t help. In fact, the added stress can further tighten your already-aching back and make things work.

Take time to take care of your back. As your condition improves, your muscles will begin to relax, and it’s likely you’ll be back in action within a few days or weeks.

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