Self-care strategies for healing back pain

By Barbara Floria, Pure Matters

Back pain always seems to come in the middle of your most frantic activity, when you're under the greatest stress and have important deadlines to meet.

De-stressing your back

"Most back pain begins with muscle problems," says Art Brownstein, M.D., author of Healing Back Pain Naturally. "When your back muscles are tight, tense, weak or out of balance, the slightest twist or awkward movement can cause spasms, pain or injury."

In addition, Dr. Brownstein says, back problems are created or worsened by stress. "Your mind and back are intimately connected. Negative thoughts can create stress and tension in your body, which will affect your back adversely," he says. "When you're tense for a period of time, your muscles contract and become more and more tight, stiff and painful."

Dr. Brownstein believes an effective stress-management program that includes deep-relaxation exercises, slow-breathing exercises, visualization exercises, and meditation can play an important part in relieving pain.

"You have to be honest with yourself and recognize that stress in your life may be causing your back pain," he says.

Stretching your back

To heal your back and make your spine healthy, it's essential to build up and nurture the back muscles.

This is accomplished by "systematic stretching of not only the muscles in the back, but the other muscles in the body as well, since virtually all muscles in the body affect the back in one way or another," says Dr. Brownstein.

If you suffer from back pain, have recently been injured or had surgery, ask your doctor or physical therapist to tell you what types of stretching exercises you can do. Ones to ask about include gentle yoga, knee-to-chest raises, squatting, side bends, and hamstring stretches.

Follow these guidelines when performing a stretching routine:

  • Stretch as far as you can without feeling pain. "If you don't stretch enough, the muscles won't become flexible," says Dr. Brownstein. "If you feel pain, however, you've gone too far."
  • Listen to your body. If something doesn't feel right for your back, stop.
  • Try to stick to a time limit -- 30 to 60 minutes -- you can maintain daily.

"Instead of looking for a quick fix, try to develop a longer view," says Dr. Brownstein. "Healing takes time and is a gradual process, but by doing daily stretching and stress-management exercises, the time it takes to heal your back will be shortened."



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