Healthy Tahoe: 5 ways to cope with an aching back

Dr. Gregory Burkhard

About 70 to 80% of the population experiences back pain at some point in their lives. Often, you can address back pain at home and get it to subside in a few days or weeks. Help move the healing process along with these tactics.

Dr. Gregory Burkhard

1. Adjust your posture

Slouching or slumping affects your alignment, flexibility, and joint movement. Instead:

Sit in a chair with low-back support or a straight-backed chair with a cushion behind your lower back. This maintains your spine’s natural curve. Keep your knees at the same level as your hips and your thighs parallel to the ground. Your elbows should be close to your body and your wrists in a comfortable, neutral position.

Stand with your ears, shoulders, and hips aligned. Hold your head level and pull your stomach in to keep your back straight. Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes. Break up standing or sitting with frequent walks and stretching.

Sleep on your side on a firm mattress with a comfortable pillow. Slightly bend your knees and, if needed, place a pillow between them.

2. Tinker with temperature

Ice or heat may reduce inflammation and ease aches. Use ice soon after back pain starts, or after you exercise. Beginning 48 hours after the onset of the pain, try to relax your muscles with heat. Take a hot shower or a bath with Epsom salt. Apply compresses, such as a warm washcloth, hot water bottle, or heating pad, to the sore area.

3. Soothe stress

Daily stressors can tighten muscles and increase the agony. Balance out worry with hobbies or relaxing outside with family or a friend. Try daily meditation and practice good sleep habits. If you feel continuously overwhelmed or anxious, get support from your physician or a mental health provider.

4. Work it out

It may take one to two days of rest after the back pain sets in. But if you relax too long, muscles can weaken, which can hinder recovery.

Keep your back muscles strong by walking around at least a few minutes every hour. Yoga, tai chi, and stretching can also bring relief. Consult with your primary care provider, a spine specialist, or a physical therapist about the best exercises for you.

5. Experiment with alternatives

While over-the-counter medicines, such as anti-inflammatories, might help, research supports many natural therapies. These include massage, chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, and acupuncture.

If the ache doesn’t subside or worsens within two to three weeks, seek medical attention. Also schedule a medical appointment if other symptoms accompany the back pain, such as unexpected weight loss, fevers, chills, night sweats, or weakness in the legs or arms.

Dr. Gregory Burkard Jr. is an interventional pain and sports medicine physiatrist for Tahoe Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Nevada and the Barton Center for Orthopedics and Wellness in South Lake Tahoe, California. To learn more about orthopedic and physiatry services available, call 530-539-6600 or go to

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