If you’ve ever thrown out your back you know… it’s extremely painful and makes you feel 1000 years old. I do it far too often, although less in recent years after learning a thing or two. It started for me after I ran a half marathon and injured my hip and has been a problem, occurring every 6 months or so ever since.
It can lay you out for two weeks or more, but now that I know what I know, I’m usually back to normal within a week. I’m no back expert, but I’m here to share what has worked for me!
Why it happens: The answer to this depends on who you ask…
Admittedly I haven’t been to a chiropractor since we moved (but I’m looking for one now), every chiropractor I’ve ever seen says that my back issues are structural. I have scoliosis and a hyper lumbar, plus my hips are crooked. When I lay on my back with my feet relaxed out to the side, my left foot falls way left and my right foot is almost straight up. Crooked hips. It’s a thing. The chiro solution? Regular adjustments.
Anel, on the other hand, says it’s because of tight hamstrings and calves (they’re the tightest, it’s true) and that when I do everyday activities, I could be doing them with better form. He used to have a bad back as well and then taught himself how to move differently and hasn’t had a problem or any pain in years. His solution? Re-learn how to bend over, lift things, sit at my computer, etc. And strengthen the muscles around my back with exercise.
According to Dr. Sarno (if you know you know), back pain like mine is caused by stress and other psychological factors. Dr. Sarno’s solution? Daily meditations.
What I think is that it’s all three of those things. I have structural issues, I need to work to strengthen muscles and loosen my hamstrings, and stress plays a giant role in it too.
When it happens: In my experience, my back generally goes out when I’m bending down quickly to do something. I’ve done it multiple times picking up laundry, cleaning something on the floor, lifting Amalia, or, on one very sad occasion, picking up dog poop.
It happens at different levels. Sometimes, I can catch it halfway down into a bend and stop it in its tracks. But most of the time, I full-on throw it out and get stuck on the floor. The worst was when I was pregnant and got stuck for hours on my kitchen floor and couldn’t even climb to my phone.
Last week, Amalia was with me and totally freaked out seeing me in so much pain and not able to move. I wanted to comfort her so badly but couldn’t even hug her. It was not great. But she was able to go get my phone so I could call Anel… although before handing it to me she took a giant burst of photos of me stuck on the ground in undies. It was one of those laugh and cry at the same time situations.
So when it happens, the key is to move your back in small movements as much as you can instead of sitting completely still. Do micro cat-cows in whatever position you’re in. Anel taught me this trick and it’s made a huge difference. This time, I was on my hands and knees which is kind of the ideal position for cat cows. I do them in tiny movements until I can move more and more. Eventually, I stand up really slowly (it usually takes 20-40 minutes to be able to stand) and then lean on a counter or table for more cat cows.
The most important thing I’ve figured out is to NOT sit in a soft chair. Whenever I do, I get stuck every time. And sitting makes it so much worse. Leaning forward is what works for me.
Then I take some Advil and immediately put heat on it to loosen it up as much as possible.
Stretching: On the first day, it’s hard to stretch at all, but I do as much as I can. It’s easier if someone can help you. I lay on my back and Anel will lift one leg straight up and gently push it towards my torso. Then he bends my knee and does the same thing. We repeat on both sides. Before bed, I do a flat back with my hands on the bed to stretch my hamstrings and lower back. I also do this throughout the day on kitchen counters, etc.
Heat vs Ice: A heating pad is great to loosen up the stiffness but ice helps with inflammation. I was told to use ice only in the first 24 hours on and off with the heat. So I try to do that.
Sleep: The first night is always the worst. I never sleep much on those nights but have learned how to make it a whole lot less painful. In my personal experience, how you sleep can determine for how many days the pain lasts. Sleep posture is one of the most important ways to heal!
Anel sets me up with my back flat on the mattress with no pillow under my head or neck. He puts a large pillow under my knees to take the pressure off of my lower back. Before I fall asleep, I’ll do 20 minutes of my heating pad.
When I inevitably wake up in pain, I put the heat back on and do mini cat-cows white laying down, arching and hunching my back over and over again until the stiffness goes away a bit.
If I have to pee in the night, I do the cat-cows before rolling to my side and then sliding off the side of the bed on my stomach. Getting up actually helps because you move it around so I try to do ti if I can.
Topical creams: Before bed and a few times throughout the day, I apply Equilibria CBD Relief Cream followed by doTERRA Deep Blue Rub. The CBD helps with inflammation and pain and the Deep Blue is like Icy Hot. I’ve tried dozens of products and these are the two that work the best, by far. They are on the pricey side but last forever and make a huge difference. When things get really bad, I’ll also use a Lidocaine patch.
Pain Killers: I stick with Advil every 6 hours from the beginning, but I’ve also been prescribed muscle relaxers in the past. I don’t like taking them because they make me feel totally whacky, tired, and out of it. But if the pain is really bad, it’s an option that really works.
Movement: Everything online says to rest but I find that if I sit still all day, it makes things so much worse. Gently walking (slowly) throughout the day feels the best for me personally.
Massagers: Massage can actually make things worse, but I’m lucky to live with a guy who works with the human body for a living so he knows exactly what to do. He has a Hypervolt for work and uses it on the muscles that support my lower back where the pain is. So he’ll massage my shoulder, hamstrings, and glutes and after 10 minutes of that, I can usually walk 10x better. We also have a Hypersphere (on sale) so that I can do it myself on the spot where the pain is. If I have to sit at my desk, I’ll use the Hypersphere at the same time.
Prevention: A Rolfer that Anel works with once told me that I need to stretch my calves and hammies every night. I did it for a few months when he first told me and my back was better than ever. Then I kind of forgot and just do it randomly when I think of it. But after this one, I’m getting back to every day stretching because it takes 10 minutes and the results are worth it. I should also be going to regular chiropractic adjustments and am on the hunt for a new chiropractor near me now!
I used to have this happen every 2-3 months. I have always been very active (running, mostly). The thing that has prevented the back spasms is being super diligent about core exercises. Just 10 minutes a day. I still get the back spasms about twice a year, but they are MUCH more mild. I have only had one bad one in the last 4 years. Walking and being lightly active seems to help resolve them the quickest when they do happen.
I need to do more core! Anel always says that too. I think it’s finally time. So glad to hear yours are better now.
If you’re looking for a new doctor to help with this, I suggest finding an osteopathic physician who specializes in Neuromuscular medicine. DOs practice Osteopathic Manipulation (OMM), which is very similar to what a Chiropractor does, except there’s more focus on how muscles and soft tissues could be affecting your function. In addition, DOs are fully licensed physicians and can do all the same things that an MD can. I know DOs aren’t as big on the east coast (I’m currently a DO med student in Ohio), but thought you might be interested in learning more about it!
I hope your back feels better!
As someone with fibromyalgia, I many times feel like there is a wrench in my back–literally. I am sorry that you are not feeling that great. I hope that you are able to find a chiropractor who will be able to help you soon.
I have read all the Dr John Sarno books. They make a lot of sense. It is sometimes just hard to understand the complexities of everything.
I’m so sorry, Maureen. That sounds terrible. I hope you’re able to find some relief!
Josh Lander in Westport is an awesome chiropractor! Highly recommend.
Amazing, going to call him thanks!
I love your blog, but have never commented. So sorry about your back, but I literally feel your pain as I am currently recovering from a moment of stupidity (picking up a really heavy box full of wine bottles). Just wanted to give you another resource to check out. I have found Pilates to be the only thing that helps (I try very hard not to take any medication so I am always trying to be proactive). I am a Pilates instructor and almost all of my clients have scoliosis or some type of back pain. Everything you mention above is spot on. I would add that you might want to read Analyzing your Scoliosis by Erin Meyers or check out her free resources on Spiralspine.com. She walks through padding the body during exercise to help with rotation (for your hips and scoliosis) and I have seen fabulous results with my clients. It is basically a method to help the body back into alignment so that we function more efficiently. She also specializes in Scoliosis (she has it too) and there is a ton of free information on her site. Pilates adds in a lot of stretching and core strengthening that has made a huge difference in my own body. Alignment is everything!
Best of luck to you and hope you feel better soon.
Great tips! I have chronic lower back/hip pain, and I’m retraining myself to hip hinge when picking things up. This is my favorite article about it: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/26/587735283/lost-art-of-bending-over-how-other-cultures-spare-their-spines
This is excatly what Anel always tells me. Looks like he’s right 🙂 Great article, thanks for sharing!
One thing I recently found out is how tight hips can affect back and knee pain. I never realized that my hips were incredibly tight until it dawned on my that i couldn’t sit down crossed legged and feel comfortable. I found an online 21-day hip opening challenge with deep stretches 15 minutes per day and it has been AMAZING. I just finished one round and I already feel like I am moving differently and have relieved so much pressure on my lower back. I plan on repeating it until I am able to sit comfortably, do a low squat without discomfort, etc. I would highly recommend it if you think this could be your problem. I also used to depend on monthly chiropractor adjustments just to not be in a ton of pain and while I do think it is beneficial, I also think it’s important to target the root cause of the issue.
Um amazing. I’m Googling that and going to try it!
The first suggestion should really be seek professional medical advice prior to attempting any of your suggestions 🙂 Some of what you suggested could make someone worse if they have a herniated disc with any type of leg symptoms.
There is no mention of physical therapy— which is really the gold standard for long term treatment and prevention of low back pain. Check out www. Mckenzieinstituteusa.org for the “treat your own back series”.
Also you mentioned scoliosis— getting evaluated by a certified scoliosis therapist would probably help you a lot for prevention.
Look into The Schroth Method, it is amazing what the correct exercises can do for scoliosis care. Check it out!
So true. Thank you Lori! I will add that to my copy now (the first line). And I’ll check out McKenzie Institute now. Really appreciate it.
Ugh the worst. I suffer from a lot of back issues too. I’d love to see your stretching routine if you would be willing to share. Hope you feel better soon!
If Anel is down, I can share it on stories!
Thanks for sharing! I have three herniated discs in my lumbar spine so I, too, throw my back out every now and then doing simple tasks (usually bending over). My husband helps by gently pulling my legs while I lay on my back which helps to create space between the discs. Otherwise, I also find that moving slowly as much as possible helps! If I lay for too long, everything just tightens up even more.
Same with me and laying for too long. Mornings after sleep are always the worst!
“on one very sad occasion, picking up dog poop.” This made me laugh out loud