As the year winds down and we begin preparing for the silly season, most businesses will be preparing for their Christmas break. Our clinic will be open throughout the holidays, but I’m one of the lucky ones having some time off. For most it should be a time to relax, eat too much and forget about the stresses of work. Unfortunately it doesn’t always go to plan!
As we discussed our clinics Christmas opening hours for this year, it reminded me of one particular Christmas Eve I worked early in my career. Having spent 4 years of my life dealing with frenzied customers at Myer during the Christmas period, I expected the majority of people to be doing their last-minute Christmas shopping. However, I surprisingly found myself almost fully-booked.
One particular guy I saw that day was in a pretty bad way. I walked into the waiting room and called him in, but it must’ve taken at least a couple of minutes for him to even get into the room as he was quite sore. He had spent the entire day before cleaning the house, going to bed just feeling a bit stiff across his lower back. First thing in the morning he made a cup of coffee, realised he’d left something on the floor and as he went to pick it up, “ping” went his lower back! Not the greatest timing the day before Christmas but to make things worse, he was flying out to London on Boxing Day as well. Unfortunately I didn't have a magic cure for him day one, but we at least managed to get him feeling a lot more comfortable and confident about jumping on a long flight.
The good news is that should this nightmare scenario or something similar happen to you, we will always have some who can see you, but you may not be able to get in straight away or you may be on holiday somewhere. So I thought I’d give you a few tips to get you through the early stages of a back strain during the holiday season.
6 TIPS FOR ACUTE LOWER BACK PAIN
1. Keep Moving – Pain with movement does not mean you are doing harm. The small movements that occur between the vertebrae of your spine with simple activities such as walking will usually help to settle pain. This doesn’t mean you should go and do cartwheels, but combining periods of rest with controlled movement is best.
2. Heat – In acute injury management, ice is usually the recommended modality to reduce inflammation (e.g. an ankle sprain). However, in most cases when you strain your back the injured structure is usually too deep for ice to have any significant effect. Heat will work better to reduce the muscle spasm that occurs following the injury. Try using a heat pack for 20 minutes every couple of hours.
3. Mobility Exercises – Gentle controlled movement of the hip and low back will usually help in improving your mobility and settle your pain. Don’t try to push through too much pain but small amounts of discomfort with movement is ok. Here are a few simple exercises to try. If you notice these exercises causes your pain to radiate down into your leg/legs, you should stop.
a. Lumbar Rotation in Crook Lying
b. Prone Push Up
c. Seated Pelvic Tilts
4. Relaxation – It’s a lot easier said than done, but trying to relax your breathing and manage the stress of the situation can make a huge difference. Breath holding when changing positions will increase intra-abdominal pressure and increase the pain you experience with movement. Try to relax your breathing, focusing on sending the air down to your lower chest.
5. Anti-inflamms – If you can get to a Pharmacist, see if it is safe you to take some simple anti-inflammatory medication to help manage the pain.
6. Avoid Prolonged Sitting – The longer you sit, the harder it is to get up. A classic mistake when trying to get up from sitting is trying to keep the back completely straight. As a result you brace through your abdominals and end up causing more pain. Try to bring your shoulders forward over your knees by bending your hips and squeeze your buttock muscles as you stand up.
These are just a few tips that will help in the majority of cases of acute low back pain. If none of these provide any relief for you, try to get in to see your Physiotherapist or GP as soon as possible.
Wishing you all a very relaxing holiday season full of sleep-ins and over-indulgence. We’ll forgive you for skipping your exercises…as long as you get back on the horse next year!
Jonathan Tan Practice Principal Lifecare Point Walter Physiotherapy
Point Walter Christmas Opening Hours
24 Dec (Xmas Eve) 8:00am – 12:00pm
25 Dec (Xmas Day) Closed
26 Dec (Boxing Day) Closed
27 Dec (Xmas Day Public Holiday) 8:00am – 12:00pm
28 – 30 Dec 7:00am – 7:00pm
31 Dec (New Year’s Eve) 8:00am – 12:00pm
1 Jan (New Year’s Day) Closed
2 Jan (New Year’s Day Public Holiday) Closed
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3.Gatchel RJ, Peng YB, Peters ML, Fuchs PN, Turk DC. The biopsychosocial approach to chronic pain: scientific advances and future directions. Psychol Bull 2007; 133: 581-624.