Low back pain is a common condition, leading to missed work, lower productivity, and a lower quality of life. Although your healthcare professional should evaluate any lingering pain, there are, luckily, a few lower back pain remedies you can try at home. But don't take it from us—we asked two physical therapists exactly how to treat lower back pain at home, be the soreness from a tough workout or slouching in your desk chair. Discover them ahead—from specific stretches to simple lifestyle changes.
Apply Ice or Heat
If the injury is acute, meaning it just happened, apply ice immediately. Ai Mukai, MD, a Physiatrist at Texas Orthopedics in Austin, recommends trying several cycles of 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. “Ice is good for inflammation, so for acute injuries, it works well. Heat is better if it’s a tight muscle—like tight muscle in the neck,” says Mukai. Try a hot shower or bath
Draw Yourself a Mineral Bath
If your low back pain is due to inflammation, a hot bath may help. Adding Epsom or magnesium salts may add extra benefits. Although medical science is still out, Epsom salts are widely recognized for easing pain and tension while helping you relax. Try adding 300 grams of salts to your bath and soak for at least 15 minutes.
Foam Rolling Can be Very Effective
Leada Malek, a San Fransico-based physical therapist, recommends the following foam rolling exercises to help combat low back pain.
Thoracic extension will help reduce tightness in your upper back and relieve any secondary low back pain.
- While lying on your back, place a foam roller horizontally at your mid-back.
- Cradle and support your head with hands clasped and with your hips on the ground, slowly extend over the roller.
Snow angels should help with rounded shoulder posture making it hard to sit up straight, which could relieve pain in the low back.
- Lie on your back with the foam roller vertically under your sacrum, upper back, and head.
- Start with palms up by your hips and make slow snow angels, bringing them up to your ears. Bend the elbows if necessary.
- You should feel a stretch in your pec muscles across your chest.
Build Up Your Lower Back Muscles With These Exercises
Malek recommends these strength-building exercises to help prevent and combat low back pain.
- Get on the floor in a face-down position and support your upper body on your forearms. Elbows should be bent 90 degrees.
- Extend one leg at a time straight behind you, supporting your weight on your toes and the balls of your feet.
- Keep your body in a straight line, bracing your core, keeping your thighs and glutes tight, and your shoulder blades down.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat two-to-three times.
- On your back with knees bent, tuck your tailbone by engaging the lower abs.
- Maintain that stability as you alternate marching your legs in place. Make it more challenging by adding opposite arm movements toward the floor.
- Try two-to-three sets of 10-15 reps.
- On hands and knees, stabilize core as you extend opposite arms and legs using the shoulder blades and glutes.
- Do opposite arm and leg on one side, then the other.
- Try two-to-three sets of 10-15 reps.
- On your back with knees bent, tuck the tailbone by engaging the lower abs and lift the hips by squeezing the glutes and pressing through the feet.
- Lower slowly and repeat.
- Do two-to-three sets of 10-15 reps
Stretching Is Crucial
Malek recommends these strength-building exercises to help prevent and reduce low back pain. According to Mukai, stretching is beneficial if you have pulled muscles.
- On all fours, inhale and extend your whole spine by letting your belly and shoulder blades sink into the ground.
- Exhale and round your whole spine. Repeat for 20 seconds at a regular breathing rate.
- Sit on your heels, bring your feet together, feet hip-width apart. Bend forward with an exhale and bring your torso between your thighs.
- Sink back onto your heels with arms stretched out front and feel a stretch in your lats and low back.
- Try walking your hands to either side and holding for a unilateral stretch!
- Lie on your back with your legs straight in front of you. Bend your left leg up and place your left foot on the floor close to your bum. Bend your right leg up and place your right ankle across your left knee.
- With your right hand reaching through the hole between your legs, grasp your left shin or thigh and pull it towards your chest.
- Gently pull and hold your left leg, feeling the stretch in your right hip flexor. Slowly, lower your left leg back on the floor and switch sides.
Set Up Your Desk for Success
Malek and Mukai suggest these tips for better desk set up:
- Make sure both feet are on the floor.
- If the back of the seat is not touching you when seated, use pillows to bring the support closer to your back.
- Use a pillow behind your lower back or vertically along your spine
- Raise your computer monitor so the top of the screen is eye-level with you; you may need to invest in a separate keyboard.
- Use a proper chair that offers lumbar support, armrests, and an adjustable height.
- If your back is extra achy, try raising the chair slightly so your hips are just above your knees. This may reduce pressure on the low back and decrease pain.
- Consider variable height desk set up; there are some cheap desktop units – so you don’t have to buy an entirely new desk.
- Take stretch breaks every hour. Walk around and move. With the variable height desk – vary sitting and standing – don’t stand all day and don’t sit all day.
Avoid Sleeping on Your Stomach
Stomach sleepers beware: this position is not optimal for your low back. The best sleeping position, according to Mukai, is on your back, followed by your side. She suggests using a pillow under or between your knees or using a body pillow if you’re a side sleeper.
Try OTC Pain-Relievers
Sometimes a pain reliever is necessary to relieve low back pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are accessible over the counter. Malek and Mukai suggest ibuprofen, such as Advil, or naproxen, like Aleve Back and Muscle Pain. Talk to your health care provider before taking any medications.