How lucky you are if you have never experienced back pain. This type of pain can be hard to describe, or to be understood by someone who hasn’t experienced it. It is one of the most common reasons people miss out on activities and miss workdays.
Causes of back pain can come from the back muscles, a slipped or torn vertebral disc, a misalignment of the vertebrae, an injury of force to the back or a fracture, among other reasons. You can even experience several of these causes at the same time.
Some of the most common causes of back strain or injury are due to lifting incorrectly, bending and twisting or reaching outward or sideways and lifting without bending the knees and from lifting an object that is too heavy. How about those long drives in your RV when you did not stop every hour or so to walk and stretch? Once you have strained your back, you will have some swelling in the soft tissue in the stressed area. This is nature’s way to try to help the area heal but it can also cause pain because of pressure against the nerves and vessels.
The pain experienced is uniquely individual because we all have a different threshold and tolerance for pain. It can be sharp to dull or achy or even spasmodic, intermittent to constant. It can be in a local area or radiate to a larger area and even go down into the buttock and/or a leg. It can also be pain that radiates across the upper back. The pain can be locat-ed anywhere along the full back area; however, the most common area of complaint is the lower back.
Back pain is telling you something is wrong and it needs your attention, so you must do a little investigating to get at the cause. Most often we can figure out what created the pain such as sleeping wrong, overdoing an activ-ity, lifting incorrectly and arthritis, to name a few.
The best way to avoid back strain or injury is to do exercises that keep the core abdominal muscles strong and toned. This is because these muscles support the back and are also responsible for helping to keep correct body alignment and posture. The abdominal muscles are the muscles that do the work in lifting, so the back muscles should never be relied on for strength in lifting. If you have weak abs, your back muscles may be overworked, causing strain or injury.
If you must do a low-level project, sit, squat or bend at the knees. As an example, if you are picking weeds, do it on your hands and knees or sit on the ground or on a gardener’s stool. Work on the project or object with it directly in front of you so you are not twisting or leaning sideways. Also, if you are dealing with your RV storage bays, don’t bend over at the hips. Get on your knees, squat or sit on a stool. If you must lift something heavy, get help, if needed, and always face the item, bend the knees, consciously tighten the abdominal muscles and tuck your hips forward. Use your arms to bring the item close to your chest, and then use the legs to lift yourself and the item upward.
Search online for exercises and the correct use of “body mechanics,” as medical professionals call it, to help protect your back. It is important to work to stay fit. As we age, we tend to lose muscle strength and tone, and we tend to become a bit larger in the belly area. This can put us at risk for hurting our back doing even the smallest activity such as picking up a sock.
If you strain your back, don’t panic. Unless you have a chronic, serious back issue, There are self-help measures you can take first before seeing a doctor.
Your back aches and you may think moving around will make it worse, but there is no connection here. In fact, in most cases; activity will hasten your recovery. Continue your activities gently and as soon as possible. You may need to lie down a few times during the day for a couple of days, but do not stay in bed.
- Since swelling causes more pain, as soon as possible, lie down and apply an ice pack (a frozen bag of vegetables works well) on the painful area over a thin shirt or cloth, and leave it on for approximately 20 minutes. You can re-peat this as often as you want, once an hour. Ice is a natural pain reliever, and it reduces the swelling. After a day or two of icing, you can switch to heat.
- If you do not have any allergies or medication restrictions by your doctor for nonsteroid, anti-inflammatory meds, then reach for the ibuprofen such as Advil, Motrin or Aleve. Follow the label for highest dose and frequency recommended, or call your doctor for a dose he or she would recommend. You can take Tylenol, but it won’t reduce the inflammation or pain as effectively.
- Ask for help with chores, or do them later. If you force yourself to excursion, you can lengthen the time you suffer.
- When lying down, lie on your side with one pillow for your neck and head and one between your knees. Use a pillow to hold the ice bag in place on your back. If you are lying on your back, it is important to reduce the strain on the back by elevating the legs with the knees bent over several pillows or a small stool or box. You can use a pillow for your head, but do not elevate your shoulders.
- Avoid sitting, standing or lying down for too long while you are in pain. This can make it worse. Walking may provide relief.
- Once you are done with icing and are in the heat phase of care, if you don’t have a medical restriction, you may try one of the over-the-counter pain-relieving creams or lotions such as ThermaCare products.
- Visiting a massage therapist can help relieve muscle tightness, and a chiropractor can relieve skeletal misalignment that causes pressure on the nerves, which causes pain.
- Stay well hydrated with water to help flush toxins and cell waste caused by the muscle strain, swelling and injury.
- You should feel relief after a few days. If not, you may need to see your doctor.
- Once you are back to your “old self,” begin work to strengthen those abs and leg muscles. Lose weight if needed. Being overweight can cause unnecessary strain on the back, as well as other parts of your body. Walking and hiking can help to build abdominal tone.
If your pain was caused by an accident, see your doctor to be assessed for the extent of the injury and for possible further professional treatment and medications. Also, if your ability to control your bladder or bowel is involved, or if you experience numbness in the legs or the inability to move them or walk, seek medical care as soon as possible.
If you keep safety and good body mechanics foremost during your activities, you can keep that back strong and have a happier and more active RV lifestyle.
Karen Minard SKP #64779
Karen lives full-time in her motorhome. She has been in nursing since 1969, with eight years as a RN travel contract nurse. Her areas of specialty are emergency room and telemetry. Portions of Karen’s articles may have been published in other newsletters and publications. Nothing written is meant to diagnose, prescribe or take the place of seeing a physician, and her articles are not meant to cover all available information or health care options.