Tips to help prevent seasonal back pain

With the official start of summer just around the corner, many of us are busy sprucing up our yards.

But hauling mulch and planting can take a toll on the back.

Santhosh Thomas, D.O., MBA, of Cleveland Clinic said people can avoid letting their flower beds get the best of them by using good body mechanics. 

“Body mechanics are very important, and having a good, ideal weight would be very important,” he said. “If you are obese, just recognize that it’s going to affect your body mechanics. And you should use the appropriate tools for the right job, because bad tools will lead to bad body mechanics.” 

Thomas said it’s smart to start slow and ease into yard work.

Yoga or stretching can help warm up muscles before heading out into the yard. Being flexible and having good core strength can also help the body better tolerate outdoor cleanup activities.

If certain types of activities trigger back pain, Thomas recommends modifying work to avoid reinjuring the back. 

He said people often get hurt doing more than their bodies are able to do, so it’s best to ask for help instead of overdoing it alone. 

For those who end up with a sore lower back, Thomas said, most times, the injury will resolve on its own with about 48 hours of rest.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications – for those who are able to take them – and applying ice or heat often helps too.

However, if back pain lingers for more than a few days, alternative therapies can be the next line of defense. 

“You may want to consider massages - an option that’s more for soft tissue - it really doesn’t help with the deep-down disk injuries,” said Thomas. “You can also consider things like yoga, but again, use good body mechanics. I’m not against the idea of using acupuncture, which has been more and more popular and supported now.”  

Thomas said two to four sessions of an alternative therapy should be sufficient for easing back pain. If pain still persists, it should be reassessed by a physician. 

Thomas also said most injuries are caused by inappropriate twisting and lifting, and often involve muscles, joints and spinal discs.   

“The most common injuries are to the muscles and the joints, which usually resolve,” he said. “The disc injuries are usually a little bit more painful. They oftentimes cause more pain in your back and leg. Those things may be more intense and may not be managed easily.” 

If someone experiences back pain, Thomas recommends a few days of applying ice or heat, minimal rest, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, if able to do so.

But, if the pain persists, especially for weeks, you should have it checked out by a doctor.

For severe pain in the back and legs, he recommends seeking immediate help.

Numbness and tingling in the legs is a sign that the injury may be more serious and possibly nerve-related. 

Bladder problems, or difficulty walking, should prompt a call to the doctor as well.

Massage, yoga, acupuncture, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications will help relieve most backaches and pains, according to Thomas.

However, there are other non-surgical options for more serious back injuries. 
“A lot of times you can do trigger point injection for muscle pain that has not resolved,” said Dr. Thomas. “Then, there are facet joint injections - where the joint becomes the source of pain, so we can take a needle and go into the joints in your back. Often times, if you have pain down the leg, it’s usually a nerve-related problem for which we use what we call epidural injections.” 

Thomas said back pain in young people will typically resolve over time, whereas older adults may want to talk to their doctor about non-opioid medications and alternative therapies.  

He said surgery should only be considered as a last resort for back pain after all other treatments have been exhausted.