The back is a complex structure made out of bones, ligaments, muscles and disks. Any problem that develops in the back, because of the way in which it stabilizes the rest of the body, will affect posture, flexibility and strength, requiring immediate treatment. If you have been diagnosed with a severe condition, such as a herniated disk or pulled muscle, you may also need surgery to repair the tissue in the lower back.
The most common recommendation is usually some form of pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The latter group includes ibuprofen and naproxen. If the pain does not abate, your doctor may next try a muscle relaxant. These drugs interfere with neurological activity to reduce pain and muscle spasms. With close supervision from the doctor, you can also use narcotics such as codeine or hydrocodone. For cases in which the pain develops further and begins to radiate down the leg, the doctor may inject cortisone into the space around your spinal cord to decrease inflammation in the roots of the nerve. Occasionally, the vertebrae joints themselves are targeted.
Before embarking on a specific exercise plan, see a physical therapist, who will make suggestions and demonstrate proper form so that you do not risk a more serious injury. She will recommend three main types of exercise. First, the therapist will suggest low-impact aerobic exercise such as swimming, cycling and elliptical training that will not irritate or jolt the back. Second, she will show you how to perform strengthening exercises that develop and condition your abdominal and back muscles to improve the structure in the core of your body and reduce the occurrence of injury. These include crunches, bridges, single and double leg abdominal presses, planks and some weighted exercises such as deadlifts and rows. Third, she will recommend gentle stretching exercises to improve flexibility.
According to 2009 study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine conference by researchers from the University of Alberta, men and women with a chronically sore lower back, when they exercised, demonstrated on average better quality of life, a 28 percent reduction in pain and 36 percent less disability. The lead author of the study, Robert Kell, said that working with weights four days a week provides the greatest improvements.
Soon after the onset of soreness, wrap an ice pack in a thin cloth and apply it to the back for 20 minutes several times a day. By numbing the tissue and slowing nerve impulses, ice reduces inflammation and swelling. Once the pain and muscle spasms diminish, apply heat to loosen muscle tightness by taking a warm bath or using a heat pad, pack or lamp. A physical therapist may also apply ultrasound or electric stimulation to loosen the muscles before exercise.