“It’s no fun, it’s no fair, but we’re all going to have back pain, and a little back hair!” It’s part of life- we sit too much, don’t stretch correctly, get too heavy, and we’re all doomed to suffer back pain as we age, right? RIGHT?! At 24 I started feeling the twinges of low back pain, but as any wise 24-year-old soldier would do I ignored it for years. I did what “common sense” says to do, which is to pop Aleve and Motrin to mask the pain so that I could keep up with the young-guns I was trying to train. Well, that technique caught up with me and I had to make a change. Here are the four medication-free ways I keep my back pain away.

Let me start by throwing this out there – I’m no doctor, so I don’t want you to take my story as medical advice. I’m about to tell you the ways of managing chronic pain that work for me. This purpose of this post is to hopefully open your eyes to alternative options for pain management that do not involve drugs and their side effects. Please do not stop taking your prescription medication without first asking your doctor.

OK, so long story short – I carried too much weight on my back, jumped out of too many planes, and didn’t get medical help with low back pain soon enough. My woes started with a dull ache in my low back, but it got so bad at one point that my legs were tingly or numb for hours at a time. An MRI revealed that I have two herniated disks in my low back… this level of degeneration is not common in people in their 20’s. I saw three different doctors, and I got three different pain medication prescriptions. None of them did more than mask the pain for a while and give me acid reflux, which led to a hiatal hernia and esophageal ulcers. Something had to change because now I had digestive problems on top of chronic back pain. This is no sob story, though. Let’s get right to the way out of this mess. 

I’d figured out that I physically cannot take the anti-inflammatory drugs for my back without having to also take Nexium for the GERD that they caused. The medications also made me tired, and if you know me at all – this is unacceptable. So my journey to finding a fix continued. Here are the four things that ended up working for me. I do them on an ongoing basis and I expect that I will need to for the rest of my life. There are a lot of options I won’t mention (acupuncture comes to mind) but just because they aren’t in my routine doesn’t mean they don’t work. Again, the goal here is to open your eyes to the fact that there are things you can do to manage back pain that don’t involve pills for the rest of your life.

1- I changed my sitting habit – I drive a lot for work, I work on a computer when I’m home, I sit at meal times, we sit in the evenings before bed, you get the trend here? That’s got to stop! If our bodies were intended to be seated for 80 years we would be shaped very differently. I built myself a standing desk for my computer at home. Something like a simple milk crate or box on top of your desk will do just fine. I also do my best to take advantage of rest stops on the freeway so that I can stretch (real stretches!) my legs and back.

2- I see a chiropractor regularly – Anatomy 101 time: the communication line from your brain to the rest of your body is your spine. If your spine isn’t aligned, it’s like having construction zones on a freeway- lots of slow, stop-and-go traffic. Had I started getting aligned by a chiropractor early on, I would not have developed uneven core muscles, and staying lined up would be much easier. If you have back pain and haven’t seen a chiropractor, you should really look into it because your back isn’t going to fix itself.

3- I do exercises that strengthen my core – a physical therapist taught me how to isolate core muscles through some specific exercises. More core strength means more stability and much-improved posture. With muscles holding your frame instead of your skeleton, you will have much less joint and back pain. You can’t ignore your core!

4- I do yoga and stretch specific areas – Hand in hand with the physical therapy exercises is yoga. Yoga also includes the stretches that keep me standing up straight. I’m not a fan of all the hippy dippy baloney that comes along with yoga but the exercises, stretches, and balance postures are doing wonders for me. Gents, you’ve got a lesson to learn if you think it’s unmanly to do yoga. Come on by, and let me mess you up with some truth.

So that’s it! That’s what my body maintenance routine looks like. The frequency each step happens depends on how much I’ve been driving or straining my back, so you will just need to find what works for you. Here are some action items you can do to test the waters right now:

1- For the next few days pay attention to how much you sit. If you have a sedentary job, change something up so that you have to get up frequently. Put the printer across the room or even set a timer to get up and stretch every 30 minutes. Also mind how much time you spend with your head hung low while looking at your phone. Hold your phone up at eye level for a while, that way your Twitter feed won’t be so detrimental 😉

2- Try the stretches in the picture below, you will know right away if they are tight. Ease into them and feel the immediate difference when you stand up and go about your day. They take five minutes, you’ve got no excuses! There are thousands of stretches, you need to find the ones that work best for you so start exploring and testing!

3- Look up some free yoga routines on YouTube. Try a short (20-30 minutes) beginner routine for three days in a row, I promise that you will be proud of yourself, feel like a million bucks, and may even be a little sore. Get off your butt and try it! What do you have to lose?

It’s important to take care of your body. If you do not do the maintenance consistently, it will break down. Let’s end the myth that only pills and medication can fix you. Let’s end mediocre posture and energy levels.

Let’s end average together!

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