Managing chronic pain means finding ways to make your back pain tolerable so you can live your life. You may not be able to get rid of your pain completely, but you can change some things that worsen your pain. These things are called stressors. Some of them may be physical, like the chair you sit in at work. Some may be emotional, like a difficult relationship.
Reducing stress can improve your physical and emotional health. It is not always easy to reduce stress, but it is easier if you are able to ask your friends and family for help.
Make a List
First, make a list of what makes your back pain better and what makes it worse.
Then try to make changes in your home and work to decrease the causes of your pain. For example, if bending to pick up heavy pots sends shooting pain down your back, re-arrange your kitchen so that the pots are hanging from above or are stored at waist height.
If your back pain is worse at work, talk to your boss. It may be that your work-station is not set up correctly.
If you sit at a computer, make sure that your chair has a straight back with an adjustable seat and back, armrests, and a swivel seat.
Ask about having an occupational therapist assess your workspace or movements to see if changes such as a new chair or cushioned mat under your feet would help.
Avoid standing for long periods. If you must stand at work, try resting one foot on a stool, then the other foot. Keep switching the load of your body's weight between your feet during the day.
Long car rides and getting in and out of the car can be hard on your back. Here are some tips:
Adjust your car seat to make it easier to enter, sit in, and get out of your car.
Bring your seat as far forward as possible to avoid leaning forward when you are driving.
If you drive long distances, stop and walk around every hour.
DO NOT lift heavy objects right after a long car ride.
These changes around your home could help relieve your back pain:
Raise your foot up to the edge of a chair or stool to put your socks and shoes on instead of bending over. Also consider wearing shorter socks. They are quicker and easier to put on.
Use a raised toilet seat or install handrail next to the toilet to help take pressure off your back when you sit on and get up from the toilet. Also make sure the toilet paper is easy to reach.
DO NOT wear high-heeled shoes. If you must wear them sometimes, consider wearing comfortable shoes with flat soles to and from the event or until you must put on high-heeled shoes.
Wear shoes with cushioned soles.
Rest your feet on a low stool while you are sitting so that your knees are higher than your hips.
Rely on Friends and Family
It is important to have strong relationships with friends and family you can depend on when your back pain makes it hard to get through the day.
Take time to build strong friendships at work and outside of work by using caring words and being kind. Give sincere compliments to the people around you. Respect those around you and treat them the way you like to be treated.
If a relationship is causing stress, consider working with a counselor to find ways to resolve conflict and strengthen the relationship
Establish Life Routines
Exercise a little every day. Walking is a good way to keep your heart healthy and your muscles strong. If walking is too hard for you, work with a physical therapist to develop an exercise plan that you can do and maintain.
Eat foods that are low in fats and sugar. Healthy foods make your body feel better, and they decrease your risk of being overweight.
Reduce demands on your time. Learn how to say yes to things that are important and no to those that are not.
Prevent pain from starting. Figure out what causes your back pain, and find other ways to get the job done.
Take medicines as needed.
Make time for activities that make you feel relaxed and calm.
Give yourself extra time to get things done or to get where you need to go.
Do things that make you laugh. Laughter can really help reduce stress.
Chou R, Loeser JD, Owens DK, et al. American Pain Society Low Back Pain Guideline Panel. Interventional therapies, surgery, and interdisciplinary rehabilitation for low back pain: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline from the American Pain Society. Spine. 2009;34:1066-1077. PMID: 19363457 Available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19363457.
Chou R, Qaseem, Snow V, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: a joint clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147:478-491. PMID: 17909209 Available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17909209.
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.