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Tips on how to relieve lower back pain

Written by Aetna By Mark Pabst

If you suffer from lower back pain, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a study in the medical journal The Lancet, nearly 80 percent of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives1. And when you have back pain, it can quickly become the only thing you think about.

However, if you focus solely on the location of your pain, it can actually become less likely you will solve the root problem. That’s why a holistic approach may not only be the road to less pain, but also the road to a healthier overall life.

Below are some tips that can help you begin relieving your lower back pain while also delivering additional health benefits.

It all starts with speaking to your doctor

The first step is to talk to your primary care physician (PCP) about your back pain. They have a more holistic view of your health. So it’s a good idea to consult with them before seeing a specialist.

Perhaps you’ve already had an initial consultation with your doctor. Maybe you’ve even had an imaging study, like an MRI, done on your lower back. Those are great initial actions. Now it’s time to discuss your treatment options.

Your PCP can lay out the different routes you can take to manage your pain. And they can make suggestions as to what options are best for you. Your primary care doctor is familiar with your medical history. So they can also give you an idea of additional health benefits a particular therapy may provide you.

Talking to your PCP will ensure you are working together to develop a clear treatment plan. That’s the most important step towards feeling better.

Explore your options

There are a number of potential therapies you may want to ask your doctor about. These include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Working with a chiropractor
  • Undergoing acupuncture
  • Changing your diet

Each of these treatments is commonly used to help alleviate lower back pain. However, not every type of therapy is recommended for every individual. So be sure to ask your doctor which treatments are best for you.

It’s also important to remember that the cost of a particular therapy is dependent on a number of variables. These include:

  • Whether your insurance covers a service
  • Whether you use a network provider
  • If a provider accepts insurance at all

Before your doctor refers you for any additional treatment, ask them about costs. You can also find information about what therapies are covered by your insurance plan by reviewing your Evidence of Coverage (EOC). This is a document your insurance company provides you annually. It details what your plan covers and how much you pay for various medical services. If you still have questions, it’s a good idea to talk to your insurance provider. You can ask them about costs, just to be on the safe side.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy, often called PT, is commonly prescribed to help decrease pain and stiffness. Physical therapists use a wide variety of techniques to reduce pain and discomfort. This includes applying heat, cold and even electrical stimulation to the body. However, the most common types of PT involve targeted exercises. These exercises can improve strength and flexibility in ways that can relieve lower back discomfort.

But PT can go well beyond just helping your back. Many exercises improve balance, which reduces the risk of common health issues like unexpected falls. PT also generally improves a person’s overall functionality. So those who do PT often find it easier to accomplish everyday physical tasks like cleaning the house or putting away groceries.

Seeing a chiropractor

Chiropractors specialize in back health. They provide manual adjustments to your spine that can help address the root causes of lower back pain. They often require repeat visits, depending on the exact cause of your pain. But studies show that spending time in the care of a chiropractor can also help ease pain in the upper back.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a component of traditional Chinese medicine that involves pricking the skin with thin needles. The technique is used to treat many different conditions. And it is now widely applied throughout the world to alleviate pain. Many people have found that acupuncture has helped with their lower back pain. But it has also shown effectiveness at treating generalized pain due to degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis. It can even help with non-pain-related issues like poor digestion and nausea.

Improved diet

It may not be the most obvious way to treat lower back pain, but changing your diet can have real results. Losing weight by reducing your calorie intake often relieves strain on the back. It can also help with joint pain in other places, like the hips and knees. And keeping your weight in line with recommendations from a doctor or nutritionist can also improve many other aspects of your health. For example, it can help reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The bottom line

There may be additional ways than those outlined above to treat lower back pain, so consult with your doctor for more information. Many methods your doctor may suggest can relieve your lower back pain while delivering unexpected health benefits. So don’t hesitate to explore options that can help both your back and your whole health. Taking care of your back is important. Taking care of the whole you is essential. 

1Kim LH, Vail D, Azad TD, et al. Expenditures and health care utilization among adults with newly diagnosed low back and lower extremity pain. May 10, 2019. Accessed July 6, 2021.