First aid tips for an acute back strain.

Every Cloud… 

Holidays are a time for reflection, I find and so it was that I tasked myself with writing my first blog from my sunbed by the pool. 

Days one, two and three passed without inspiration. 

It was not until the evening of day three that inspiration came flooding in (pun intended…read on). 

Sadly, I did not notice as I put the plug in the basin and turned the tap on to rinse my swimming costume that the basin had no overflow. Nor did I realize that I had got in the shower without turning the tap off. 

The first thing I knew of my error was my husband’s alert cry as he stepped off the bed into a body of water that had not only covered the bathroom floor, but also the bedroom, as far as the balcony. 

For more than half an hour we tackled the clean up operation alone and had a good system going, I might say. Only once did one of us (me) fall flat on our backs (who would have guessed how slippery a wet marble floor could be) but I took this as a positive – no fractures, so presumably my bone density is still good.             , 

Once the scene was a little less embarrassing, we called for backup in the shape of someone from housekeeping with a mop, which would reach under the bed and eventually apart from the question of what to do about the wet hairdryer, we felt we were back in control. 

But then, just when you least expect it, which is so often the way, I moved a deceivingly heavy chair to retrieve a pair of flip flops that had floated beneath and, BANG! My back went! I felt it, as if it had a mind of its own, as the muscles started their protective bracing to save my discs and joints from damage. I know this is a physiologically normal and helpful reaction (although I can only describe the sensation as being vacuum packed around the middle, which feels far from normal) but at the same time I felt saddened to the core. What would this mean for the remains of my holiday? 

And this is where ‘Every cloud’ comes in, because at last I had inspiration for my blog.

First aid tips for an acute back strain. 

·         Bed rest?

This is rarely what is needed. When you lie still for a length of time, a vicious circle begins. Immobility allows the muscles to tighten and any inflammation that is present is not drained away. This leads to congested tissues, which leads to pain, which increases the immobility and so on. 

Instead, what the body needs is ‘active rest’. Gentle walking or rocking or swaying on the spot is usually better. This keeps the muscles gently stretching and releasing and allows gravity to help drain away the products of inflammation. Once you feel your back fatiguing of this, listen to it and rest for a while in your most comfortable position (but not for too long as you don’t want the vicious cycle of immobility to start again). 

·         Stretches?

Gentle stretches are good but be aware that the muscles are already in a heightened state of sensitivity, so treat them gently. The stretch should feel comfortable and never strained. 

·         Heat or ice?

A difficult question as it depends on the injury, but as a rule heat will relax a tense muscle (good) but may exacerbate any inflammation (bad). Ice will have a temporary numbing effect on the pain (good) and will help to damp down any inflammation (also good). Basically, if in doubt, ice is safest. Always wrap the ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) in a thin cloth and as a rough guide leave it in place for ten minutes at a time then take it off while the area warms back up again naturally.

If heat feels good to you and does not cause the symptoms to flare up, then heat is fine. 

·         Keep calm

So many times, in the case of simple, acute low back strains such as my story describes, I find my job as an osteopath is up to thirty percent counselling. In many cases there is no physical injury and there will be no lasting weakness. What you are feeling (and probably fearing) is the result of your body’s normal physiological protective mechanism working admirably. The brain and the body work well together and make a great team when it comes to protection. What the brain is a little rubbish at however is knowing when danger has passed and telling the muscles to stand at ease. Your anxiety will only add to this. What the brain needs to be convinced of, is that the joints can gently start to move again, and we will not all die. This is partly your job by not becoming anxious and thus increasing the tension and as your osteopath, partly mine by guiding your joints and muscles back to their non-braced state. 

I was lucky this time and within thirty-six hours of careful handling and lots of gentle rocking I was back to normal. And now as I sit on the airplane home, like our hotel room drama, no one would ever know it had happened.