10 Tips to Relieve Lower Back Pain, Recommended by Physical Therapists

Find out what commonly causes lower back pain and what physical therapists recommend for treatment and relief.

Published Date: Apr 10, 2024
man-with-lower-back-pain

10 Tips to Relieve Lower Back Pain, Recommended by Physical Therapists

Find out what commonly causes lower back pain and what physical therapists recommend for treatment and relief.

Published Date: Apr 10, 2024
man-with-lower-back-pain

10 Tips to Relieve Lower Back Pain, Recommended by Physical Therapists

Find out what commonly causes lower back pain and what physical therapists recommend for treatment and relief.

Published Date: Apr 10, 2024
man-with-lower-back-pain

10 Tips to Relieve Lower Back Pain, Recommended by Physical Therapists

Find out what commonly causes lower back pain and what physical therapists recommend for treatment and relief.

Published Date: Apr 10, 2024
man-with-lower-back-pain
Table of Contents

Whether you just tweaked your back overdoing it at the golf range or have been dealing with chronic back issues for years, we don’t have to tell you how disruptive lower back pain can be. Whether it's sharp and stabbing or dull and achy, the pain can have a ripple effect on every aspect of your life. So, it’s only natural you’re on the hunt for some relief. And you’ve come to the right place. 

Back pain is one of the most common complaints we see among our members,” says Julianne Payton, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “But the good news is that we always have something we can do to help relieve it. Back pain may be incredibly common, but it’s also incredibly common to recover from.” 

Most of the time, lower back pain resolves after a few weeks with simple, conservative self-care strategies.

Read on to learn more about how to relieve lower back pain, especially with exercises and tips from our Hinge Health physical therapists. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Julianne Payton, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Payton is a Hinge Health physical therapist with 8 years of experience and specializes in ergonomics and workplace injuries.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

Lower Back Pain: Common Causes

There are many causes of lower back pain. Sometimes, it’s due to muscle strain — maybe you overdid it gardening over the weekend or during a new workout class. Other times, it’s due to normal age-related changes, such as osteoarthritis or a herniated disc.

There’s usually not just one factor contributing to your pain. It’s common for people to get an MRI and be told their pain is due to an issue with a spinal joint or a disc,” says Dr. Payton. “But there are so many other things that can contribute to sensitivity in your back and your nervous system as a whole.” And imaging may not tell the whole story. In fact, a research review in the  American Journal of Neuroradiology found that 96% of people over age 80 with no back pain showed signs of disc degeneration on MRIs and, among 20-year-olds, more than 30% showed signs of disc degeneration without pain. 

Other factors that can influence back pain include lack of sleep, stress, poor nutrition, and being sedentary for long periods of time. “You don’t have to fix all of these things to feel better, either,” reassures Dr. Payton. “Sometimes just focusing on improving one area can make a real difference in your back pain.”

“It’s important to realize that most cases of back pain resolve on their own within six weeks,” says Dr. Payton. “You’ll be able to resume your normal activities and move on with life. But there are tools we recommend you keep in your pain-relief toolbox to help when your back pain flares up.” Here are some tips for lower back pain that can help ease your discomfort:

1. Stay Active

It might not sound appealing to exercise when your back hurts or you may be fearful you’ll make your pain worse, but movement is one of the best things you can do for back pain. Staying active increases blood flow to your spinal tissues and joints, says Dr. Payton. A 2020 review found that regular physical activity improved pain and function among people with chronic low back pain.

One of the best ways to ease a sore back is to simply get out and walk. But if that hurts too much, you can try a water-based activity in the pool, like water walking or jogging, suggests Dr. Payton. These will be gentler on your joints, so that you can build strength to help you move with less pain when you’re on land. 

It’s also important to do back strengthening and stretching exercises, Dr. Payton adds. One strengthening exercise she recommends is the squat: “It’s a functional movement that you can do daily that uses your back,” she says. For stretches, cat cow and child’s pose both take your back through its full range of motion.

2. Use Over-the-Counter Medication

Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for lower back pain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history. Pain meds can be used as a short-term remedy to ease your discomfort to the point where you feel comfortable moving more and exercising. 

3. Try Yoga or Tai Chi

These movement-based therapies can be very helpful to both relieve and prevent lower back pain. A 2022 review in the journal Pain found that patients who did yoga reported less back pain than patients who didn’t. Another review in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice found that yoga, tai chi, and qigong were all effective at improving chronic low back pain. “All of these practices work well because they help to stretch and strengthen back muscles, as well as make you feel more comfortable with movement,” says Dr. Payton.

4. Sit Strategically

Slouching over a computer or tablet for hours on end can take its toll on your back. “We’re not meant to sit at a desk for eight to 10 hours a day,” says Dr. Payton. While you sit, consider using a small, rolled-up towel to help support your back as well as a footrest or step stool to help your feet rest flat on the ground. And try different positions to find the ones that are most comfortable for you. “A lot of times people sit at the edge of a chair, which can put more pressure on back muscles,” explains Dr. Payton. “It’s fine to sit back into the chair and let it support you.”

5. Add in Movement Snacks

If you sit for a long period of time, whether it’s at work, in the car, or at home while you watch TV, the lack of activity can cause discomfort. “Our bodies are hard wired to move,” explains Dr. Payton. “It can be hard for us to tolerate sitting for hours, especially if we’re already in pain.” Research shows that if you build in a two to three-minute movement snack every 30 minutes, it can help relieve lower back pain.

6. Eat Healthy Foods

An anti-inflammatory diet — one that’s rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, fatty fish like salmon, and healthy fats like nuts, avocado, and olive oil — may help reduce inflammation in the body that can worsen lower back pain, says Dr. Payton. It’s also important to avoid inflammatory foods, such as processed meat, baked goods, bread and pasta made with white flour, deep-fried items, and sugary foods and drinks. They’ve been linked to an increase in lower back pain. And don’t skimp on water: “The discs in your spine, which provide cushioning, are mostly water,” explains Dr. Payton. If you’re dehydrated, they’ll lose water, and thus their plumpness, which can worsen back pain.

7. Settle Into a Sleep Routine

It’s important to get plenty of rest, as poor sleep can worsen back pain. “I recommend people do one or two back stretching exercises that feel really good to them before bed, then follow that up with 10 to 15 minutes of heat or ice on their back,” says Dr. Payton. “It can help ease pain and relax muscles, so that they sleep better and are more comfortable throughout the night.” You may also need to make some tweaks to your sleeping position. If you sleep on your side, try drawing your legs up towards your chest and putting a pillow between them for more relief. If you sleep on your back, you can try placing a pillow under your knees and neck to help keep your spine in alignment. You can also add a small, rolled-up towel under your waist.

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8. Manage Stress

While we don’t want to stress you out more, we do think it’s important to point out that stress can almost triple your risk of developing severe back pain, according to a 2021 study in the journal Scientific Reports. “Chronic stress can lead to inflammation throughout the body, which can worsen back pain,” explains Dr. Payton. “It can also cause neck and shoulders to tense up, which puts strain on the entire back, including the lower back.” 

One of the best ways to manage stress and anxiety is exercise, which has also been shown to help improve lower back pain. You may also want to try deep breathing, which can help reduce stress hormones and reset your nervous system. You can try the 4-7-8 breathing technique, where you inhale through your nose for four, hold your breath for seven, and exhale through your mouth for eight. Other stress-relieving techniques, like meditation and therapy, can also help.  

9. Don’t Drink Too Much or Smoke

Smoking can make back pain worse, since it damages the discs and joints in your back. And alcohol has been linked to chronic back pain, possibly because it increases inflammation in the body. Limit yourself to a drink a day if you’re a woman, and two if you’re a man, according to health guidelines.

10. Try Physical Therapy

If pain persists for more than a week or two, physical therapy for lower back pain may help.A physical therapist (PT) can create a personalized treatment plan that includes exercises to strengthen the low back (and the muscles and ligaments that support it) and improve mobility and function. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References 

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