A Pilot’s Guide to Self-Managing Back pain – Lifestyle and Sleep

“It’s not the job of sports medicine professionals to look after your tissues and joints, whether you hydrate or whether you actively work toward improving and maintaining healthy positions and range of movement throughout the day. It’s up to you. Spend 10 minutes minimum per day. No days off. No excuses.”

– DR. KELLY STARRETT, READY TO RUN

In my attempts to nurse my back to full strength, I have spent a great deal of time researching how to manage my pain, while also looking at the best home remedies/exercises to help fix my injury and prevent similar ones from happening again in the future. 

As a result I have decided to compile my research into this comprehensive guide regarding all the things I’ve found particularly useful for managing my back pain day to day, including some important what-not-to-dos!

Following on from my previous posts – Sitting, Standing, Swimming – and core strengthening and flexibility this post will look at some lifestyle tips and how to sleep properly. A final post will look at the use of drugs/other treatments plus some final thoughts. 

It goes without saying I’m not a medical professional in any way, shape or form, so please, please, don’t take what I’m saying as gospel. I’m simply relaying what has helped me in managing my pain. 

Back pain is a complex issue that I believe requires a complex approach from a number of different angles. Trial and error is necessary in figuring out what works best for youand your condition. 

Hopefully this guide will help you as well in some way, shape or form. As always seek advice from a professional (added advice – seek more than one opinion) and do your own research. 

I’ve left links to a number of articles throughout that I found useful/helped support my own findings. I should add I am in no way affiliated with any of the organisations mentioned or products that I recommend. 


LIFESTYLE MATTERS – FIND TIME TO MEDITATE

A study looking into Psychological Treatment Strategy for Chronic Low Back Pain concludes that many “people with chronic pain usually suffer from not only pain but also overlapping problems, such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, working with disabilities, drug overuse, and low quality of life.”

While I think it’s likely normal for someone to catastrophize the pain of an injury or illness, from personal experience I can say depression and anxiety make its extent far worse. 

One of the tools I use to help stop myself from falling down the rabbit hole is MEDITATION. I’ve found it invaluable for dealing with difficult emotions and negative thought patterns,  reducing stress and improving sleep. This has been especially important for me following this recent injury.

It’s helped me maintain a positive mindset – accepting how things are today and being grateful for the everyday things I can still do, such being able to walk!!! At the same time it’s prevented me from feeling sorry for myself/blowing the issue out of proportion while remaining proactive about trying to solve it (by writing this article for example). Some useful apps that I love include headspace and Insight Timer. 

For those, like me, who are battling the ugly demons of depression and anxiety, on top of chronic back pain, I can highly recommend a course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). One study found, “people who attended MBSR classes were more than 40 percent likely to show “meaningful” improvements in their pain and daily activities compared to people who sought conventional care for their aching backs.” Worth a shot no?

Of course other lifestyle factors are equally important including maintaining a healthy diet, finding to time to relax, having some fun and getting quality sleep (more on that below). Ultimately finding ways to live a happier, healthier life are only gonna mean good things for your back and general outlook.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6698517/

https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/news/20160322/meditation-may-help-ease-chronic-low-back-pain

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/how-meditation-helps-with-depression


SLEEP THE RIGHT WAY UP ⬆️

SLEEPING ON YOUR STOMACH IS ONE OF THE WORST POSITIONS for your back and especially your neck. Guess what? I sleep on my stomach. Oh, and I also have problems with stiffness in the neck. One of the major reasons for this is ‘because the head is usually turned to one side. This twists the spine and places additional stress on the neck, shoulders, and back.’ The truth is, almost any other position is better for your back.

SLEEPING ON YOUR BACK WITH A SMALL PILLOW UNDER THE KNEES IS BEST, “as this keeps your body in the utmost neutral position, therefore not adding any additional stresses to your discs or joints, and not putting your muscles in constant stretch or compressed positions.” It’s no wonder my pain is worse in the morning. 

With that in mind there is one thing I’d like to say – It can’t be understated just how important getting adequate sleep is so don’t force it. If you find yourself in a state of despair for your inability to change a lifetime of sleeping on your stomach, then roll back over. Excuse the pun, but it’s not going to be an overnight thing. I’m currently in the process of trying to change the position I sleep in. As it stands I start by meditating for 20-30mins on my back. Sometimes I drift off and sometimes I don’t. If I don’t manage it, I flip over. Sleep is just too important.

If you sleep on your stomach and struggle to sleep other ways, I’ve read that placing a slim pillow under your stomach and hips can help improve spinal alignment. This is something I do if I fail to fall asleep on my back. Whatever helps. One other method you might consider is to work your way around by moving to sleeping on your side with the support of additional pillows. I tired this but found that sleeping on my left side made my pain worse for some reason. As always listen to your body, do your own research and talk to an expert. 

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320870


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