When I was 36 years old, my back suddenly started to ache, and it didn’t go away for over 18 months. Had a consistent lower back pain every day.
Here’s how I found an answer.
Don’t do anything I talk about in this article without consulting a doctor.
Chronic back pain is one of the most common health problems people report to their doctors.
- 1/3 of adults report having episodes of back pain at some point in their life.
- 8% of adults have chronic back pain that limits some of their everyday activities.
83 million work-days are lost because of chronic back pain. But it can also leave you out of other activities as people with back pain spend a combined 200 million days in bed every year.
Back pain means almost 2 billion hours of lost productivity in the US alone. Extending it to the rest of the world, the number could be as high as 40 billion hours of work lost.
Quality of life
But it doesn’t end there. When you have back pain, but it’s not that severe you have to stay at home, you still lose quality of life. You can’t do all the things you want to do. You can’t be as active as you could. You will be less happy.
Here’s how I got rid of my lower back pain.
My lower back pain experience
It started suddenly.
One morning I felt that my back ached. I didn’t think much about it. I had had lower back pain and usually it disappeared during the day. Maybe I slept in an awkward position and my back was telling me to fix that.
But this time the back pain didn’t go away.
So, the next morning I woke up, and I still had the back pain. And the next morning and the next.
But it didn’t end there, the lower back pain was also getting stronger. The activities most people don’t think about became a thing. For example, getting out of the bed in the morning and looking back over your shoulder.
At some point, lower back pain became something that was a part of my life every day.
It’s not less painful. Most of us can’t just ignore it. It’s there, and you know that certain activities will make you wince.
Daily routine of the chronic lower back pain
As days became weeks and weeks became months, I adjusted my life around the condition I had. I was lucky, I didn’t have the most severe and debilitating form of the lower back pain, but it wasn’t something I could ignore.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. ~ Buddhist proverb
Getting out of the bed
Getting up in the morning was one of the hardest things for me. Waking up and getting up also had a psychological component.
When I woke up flat on my back, I often didn’t feel the pain. Then there was hope. Maybe it’s gone. But no, as soon as I started moving, I knew it’s still there.
Warming up my back
For me, the mornings were the worst. It seems that warming up my core muscles during the day, the back pain became less severe than right after getting out of the bed.
I think there were two reasons for feeling less pain as the day went on. First, during the day, the muscles in my back warmed up, and I became a little desensitized to the pain.
My favorite painkiller, Ibuprofen
Ibuprofen is a miracle drug. It can get your fever down and it can fight inflammation. After all, it’s NSAID or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. And, of course, it can kill pain.
If you have a headache and take 200 to 600mg of ibuprofen then for most people, it has no side effects. Wikipedia says you can take up to 4000 milligrams per day. I think I have never exceeded 1,5 grams.
But! There’s always a but. The downside of ibuprofen (and NSAIDs in general) is that when you use it daily for chronic pain management, then it will make holes in your stomach. More about that later.
Seeing the doctor
If you have had lower back pain for weeks, go see a doctor. Maybe there is something modern medicine can fix. The problem is that in many cases there is no reason. There is nothing wrong you can point to and fix to get rid of the pain.
Analyses, X-ray, etc. My doctor put me through everything to find out if there’s something to fix. No, there wasn’t.
She prescribed me stronger ibuprofen. For some weird reason, you can get ibuprofen up to 400mg per pill over the counter, but for 600mg and beyond you need a prescription. Go figure I can as well take three or ten 200mg pills.
The side effects of ibuprofen
In a week or so, I started to have stomach pain. I asked my doctor about it and she said it’s completely normal as ibuprofen causes stomach ulcers. She suggested that with one hand I should take ibuprofen and for the other she prescribed me ulcer pills.
When I considered that I might need this setup for years, it was not fun at all.
The doctor also wanted to see if massage had any effect on the back pain. So, I went to medical massage twice a week for a month. Many people like massage. I don’t.
After a month there was no noticeable difference at all in my lower back pain and decided to stop doing it.
Physiotherapy for lower back pain
Physiotherapy is a fancy word for exercising with your body. Stretching, bending, and other motions that should get your muscles and joints working as they should.
If they would say that it’s just exercises and you can get the same stuff from Youtube, then they wouldn’t be able to charge a premium on the service.
However, I get that many people don’t want to do the research. Others want to have someone tell them if they are doing it correctly and how to avoid injury.
It didn’t work for me.
Or to be more precise, the exercises the physiotherapist asked me to do didn’t help one bit. No change in back pain.
However, the physiotherapy was the answer. They just didn’t show me the exercise that worked for me.
All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming. ~ Helen Keller
How to relieve lower back pain?
After I had had the back pain for more than a year, I understood that I’m on my own. As there was nothing physically wrong with me, that the doctors or machines could detect, then they had no idea how to treat my lower back pain.
I started to look for solution on my own.
There are countless exercises recommended for lower back pain. The problem is that you don’t know which of them will work and if they will work at all. As I had just finished physiotherapy sessions, then I started looking for exercises I hadn’t tried jet.
I was lucky.
The first exercise I found on Youtube worked for me.
What’s the exercise, you may ask? For that please transfer 100 dollars to my Paypal account.
The Superman exercise
The exercise that worked for me was the superman.
You lay flat on your belly, face down, hands stretched above your head. You lift your hands and legs off the ground for a few seconds. Then you lower your limbs back down and rest for a few seconds. Then you repeat it.
I usually do 5 short repetitions and end with a longer one that is three times longer than the short reps.
I do the long rep just to feel I’m exerting myself. For some people, the long rep might be too hard. Don’t do it and replace it with three more short reps.
The whole thing takes a minute and a half.
Here’s the superman exercise step by step:
- Lie face down on the floor and put arms out over your head, keeping the legs on the ground.
- Raise the hands and feet off the floor as high as you can, but 6 inches should be enough.
- Keep your head straight and look at the floor to avoid neck injury.
- I hold the position for as long as I can count to ten very fast. Maybe 3 to 4 seconds. You can start with 2 seconds if you can’t do more.
- Return to the starting position. I count to ten again.
- I repeat the exercise 5 times and then I do one long stretch where I count to 30. I think this may be too much for some people. So, you can do more of the shorter repeats.
Do it twice a day.
I usually do it in the morning after waking up, and before going to sleep.
For how long you have to keep this up?
For me, it worked in days!
Imagine, you have had a back pain for more than a year, now you do superman for four days and the pain is gone.
It’s like magic.
As soon as the pain was gone, I stopped doing the exercises.
Look after your body and your body will look after you ~ Paul Boxcer
In about five days after I stopped the daily superman exercise, the lower back pain came back to my back.
So, I restarted my exercise regimen and this time I kept it up for two weeks. On the second week, I didn’t have any pain but kept on doing the supermans.
After two weeks, I stopped again.
This time the pain was gone for good.
Here’s what I have noticed about my lower back pain
It seems that the back pain shows that I’m getting out of shape.
I usually run a lot. As long as I’m keeping a consistent running schedule of 3 or 4 times a week, I don’t have any back problems.
The back pain comes when I stop running and spend countless hours sitting behind my computer. In this case, it takes several months for the lower back pain to develop.
And the back pain returned again
In 2020, during the corona virus, I started to work more and run less. From the mid-April to the end of September, my running schedule was almost non existent.
In the beginning of the October, the lower back pain was back again. But now I was prepared. I started doing supermans immediately and the back pain was gone in four days. I promptly stopped exercising.
And the back pain came back in three days.
The final solution for the lower back pain
Now, as I write this, I’m on the fifth day of supermans and intend to keep it up for another week and a half. At the same time, I will start running more consistently, at least four times per week.
If running is something you hate, you can walk instead. Daily walking habit is a magic remedy for almost everything.
Everything is going to be alright. Maybe not today, but eventually. ~ Unknown
What causes lower back pain?
I was lucky.
I was lucky because my back pain was caused by something that can be fixed.
I was lucky because I found the fix.
I hope this will work for you too!
What may be the reasons of the back pain in my case? Most likely the core muscles in the back get out of balance and start tugging in the wrong way. The fix simply strengthens the muscles that are out of shape. After I strengthen the muscles enough, the pain goes away.
But I still have to be physically active to keep the back in shape. For me it’s running regularly that keeps the pain away for good.
I hope this exercise will help some of you reading this.
What to do if superman doesn’t help?
As I said above, there are countless exercises and luckily, I found the superman exercise that works for me.
If it doesn’t work for you, try other exercises. Make sure you try one exercise at a time. Take two weeks and do one exercise twice every day, right after you get out of the bed and just before you go to sleep.
If you can see no difference in two weeks, try another exercise.
You may have had the lower back pain for years. Trying out different exercises may take months, but if you find the right one it will rid you of the problem for life (hopefully).
We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same. ~ Carlos Castaneda
But if nothing else works then you might and the lower back pain doesn’t go away then you can find some relief in meditation and mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation for the treatment of chronic low back pain in older adults: A randomized controlled pilot study. Compared to the control group, the intervention group displayed significant improvement in the Chronic Pain Acceptance Questionnaire Total Score and Activities Engagement subscale. An 8-week mindfulness-based meditation program may lead to improvement in pain acceptance and physical function https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17544212/
Read more about my mindfulness and meditation experience.
Sometimes exercise is not the answer
And then there are cases where exercise doesn’t help because the problem is somewhere else.
Most likely my problem was a muscular imbalance and bad physical shape.
If you have something physically wrong with your back or spinal column, then simple exercises will not help. Sometimes, they may even make them worse.
Talk to your doctor. If there are no physical problems, then you can try the superman.
If the exercise works for you, then let me know in the comments and share it with a friend who has a similar lower back pain.
Cover image Karolina Grabowska