Back pain and relief
Back pain is no joke. One minor tweak to your back and you could be down for the count, taking you away from things you like to do. Luckily there are lots of ways to help prevent back pain and options to relieve those sore, achy muscles if you accidentally overwork them.
Low back pain
Did you know about 80% of people have issues with their low back at least once, with pain ranging from a minor nuisance to a major disability?1 When you’re living with severe pain, you might think about getting a prescription.2 But, clinical guidelines recommend avoiding medications as the initial treatment for low back pain. Back pain is a driver of opioid prescriptions in the U.S., and opioid usage comes with possible (and unnecessary) risks of addiction and potential complications. Instead, you may first want to try exercises and therapies you can do on your own or with the help of a professional.
8 tips to help prevent and treat back pain
Check in with your posture right now. Are you hunched over like a turtle? Loosen up those shoulders and roll them down your back. That's a start, but let's get into more detail with these 8 tips.3
Make sure you’re sitting up nice and straight with your knees at a 90-degree angle. Shoulders should be in a straight line over your hips and ears directly over your shoulders. If you’re in front of a computer, adjust the screen height to eye level and consider raising the keyboard to help keep your hands, wrists and forearms in line and parallel to the floor. Also, be mindful of your neck posture when you’re talking or texting on the phone. Instead of tilting your chin down, raise your device to eye level, and avoid tucking it between your ear and shoulder. Or, use a speakerphone or headset.
You may want to stay horizontal when you’re dealing with low back pain, but staying active might be the best option. You could try low impact activities known to help ease back pain and strengthen leg muscles, like walking, swimming, yoga or tai chi.
Use ice first to help reduce swelling. Then, after a few days, try heat to help ease stiffness.5
Try treatment. Check out your local chiropractor, licensed acupuncturist or physical therapist for recommended noninvasive treatments, like spinal manipulation, exercise and acupuncture. 5 , 6
The bones, muscles, discs and other structures in your back need proper nutrition to help support your body. Eating a balanced diet full of fruits, veggies, lean protein and healthy fats may help reduce inflammation (a contributing factor to chronic back pain). A healthier diet may also help you maintain a healthy weight, which can help reduce your risk of back pain.
Easy, all you ironwomen and men. We know you’re strong. But, don't lift objects that are too heavy for you. When you do lift, keep your back straight, head up, core in tight, and lift with your knees. Whatever you’re lifting should stay close to you, so you don’t have to stoop over and hunch your back.4
(Lookin’ at you, workaholics.) Staying in one spot for too long can make your muscles and joints stiff. Pencil in a break every 30 minutes to get up, stretch or go for a quick walk. It’ll help promote better blood flow. Plus, you’ll give your eyes and mind a much-needed break.
4 back workouts to try at home
Speaking of stretching, the nice thing about back exercises is you don’t need any equipment. If you’ve had a back injury, be sure to get your doctor’s okay before you start working out. Once you get the green light, consider doing these exercises before and right after you get out of bed.
- While in bed, lie on your back with your arms at your side.
- Bend one leg at the knee and pull it into your chest, with the other leg bent with your foot resting flat on the bed.
- Pull the leg in, as far as you comfortably can, and then extend it out, five times. Then, switch legs and do the same on the other side.
- Next, try a common yoga pose, while staying in the same position. Extend one leg out flat on the bed and bring the other leg up toward your chest and hold it there for several counts. Switch legs and do the same on the other side.
- While in bed, lie on your back with your arms out at a T.
- Bend both knees and let them fall to your left or right side for a gentle low-back twist.
- Use your abdominal muscles to lift both legs up and over to the other side, for a total of 5 reps on each side.
- While in bed, lie on your back with your arms at your side.
- Bring your knees up so the soles of your feet are flat on the bed.
- Use your glutes and back muscles to lift your bottom (buttocks and hip region) off the bed and back down, for a total of 5 reps.
- Once you’re out of bed, stand tall with your legs shoulder width apart.
- With your hands on your hips, rotate your upper body one way, then the other.
- As you get stronger and more flexible, you’ll be able to rotate your upper body with a wider range.
Got your back workouts in?
Nice work. Now, here's a pro tip for the rest of your day. Support your weight with your abdominal muscle as you walk, stand and sit. (No leaning.) Your daily mantra could be: Belly in tight, sit upright.
Who should I see if I have concerns about back pain?
If you’re experiencing severe back pain, or you have other related concerns, there are plenty of experts to see for help. For example, you could visit a chiropractor, physical therapist, occupational therapist and/or acupuncturist. Our national network includes more than 100,000 credentialed back experts.
Benefits for your back
If you have health insurance through your work, you may have lower back pain treatment visits included in your health plan. For some UnitedHealthcare members, the first 3 visits may be fully covered when you visit a network physical therapist or chiropractor.*
- The Rising Prevalence of Chronic Low Back Pain ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 2015.
- Non-drug therapies should be first line treatment for low back pain, US guidance says bmj.com, 2017.
- Can You Prevent Back Pain? webmd.com, 2020.
- Tips to strengthen your core to help prevent and treat back pain willitsnews.com, 2021.
- When is back surgery the right choice? Harvard Medical School, 2014
- Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians acpjournals.org, 2017.
*Members must have physical therapy or chiropractic benefits, with remaining visits in the plan year (i.e. these benefits do not extend the member’s physical therapy or chiropractic benefit maximum). A copay will not apply to services provided during the first 3 visits for new low back pain with a network physical therapist or chiropractor, as long as the plan limit has not been reached. In deductible plans there may be out of pocket costs for services like x-rays or durable medical equipment, but there may not be out of pocket costs for services like spinal manipulation, exercise instruction and other therapies. After the first 3 visits with a network physical therapist or chiropractor for new low back pain, any subsequent visits with any network or out of network physical therapist or chiropractor will be subject to deductibles, copays and coinsurance. This program is not available in all states or for all groups and is subject to change. Refer to your plan documents for specific benefit coverage and limitations or call the toll-free member phone number on your health plan ID card.