Johns Hopkins Health Alert
Relieving Back Pain and Neck Pain
This Health Alert is intended for readers interested in learning about the prevention, diagnosis, and management of back pain.
Is your mattress too hard? Does your neck hurt? Heres some advice to help soothe your pain.
For those vulnerable to low back pain, minimizing back stress while you sleep can be an important preventive measure. Choosing the right mattress can help. Although conventional wisdom has long held that firm mattresses are best for the back, evidence supporting this idea was lacking. Now a study has shown that a mattress of medium firmness may be the most helpful. When 313 people with chronic back pain had their mattress replaced, those who received a mattress of medium firmness were twice as likely to experience reductions in back pain and the need for pain medication as those who received a firm mattress.
Sleeping position is also important. Adopting certain positions while sleeping can throw the spine out of alignment; for example, lying on one's stomach puts stress on the neck and exaggerates the curve of the lower back. This can trigger a bout of back pain or prolong recovery time. The best sleeping positions allow the back to relax by keeping it aligned.
- Ideal:The best way to sleep if you have back pain is on your side with your knees bent and a pillow between your knees. This position helps to maintain the natural curves of your spine.
Good: When sleeping on your back, keep your knees slightly raised by placing a pillow underneath them. This prevents your lower back from overarching by supporting the weight of your extended legs. Acceptable: If you can't break the habit of sleeping on your stomach, place a pillow underneath your abdomen to keep your spine aligned.
Relieving Neck Pain
Treatments for chronic neck pain include medication, spinal manipulation, improvements in posture and ergonomics, and relaxation techniques. Now a study from Finland shows that neck endurance and resistance exercises are also effective options.
In the study, researchers randomly assigned 180 women (25 to 53 years old) to endurance training, resistance training, or a control group. Participants in the endurance- and resistance-training groups were assigned to five 45-minute sessions a week. Endurance training consisted of neck exercises such as repeatedly lifting the head while lying face up and then face down. Resistance training involved wrapping a specialized elastic band (such as the Thera-Band, available from a physical therapist or a sporting goods store) around the head while bending the neck forward, backward, to the left, and to the right. Both groups also used free weights to strengthen the shoulders and arms and regularly engaged in aerobic exercise. The control group performed aerobic exercises only.
After one year, all groups had less neck pain and disability, but the greatest improvements were seen in the endurance- and resistance-training groups. These two groups were also taking less pain medication than the control group. Benefits in the endurance- and resistance-training groups were seen even in those who attended only two sessions per week. Whether these results would also apply to men is uncertain, the studys authors note. If you have chronic neck pain and are interested in endurance and resistance training, you may want to make an appointment with a physical therapist who can design and teach you an individualized exercise program. Once you are able to perform the neck exercises independently, you can continue on your own.
Posted in Back Pain on September 20, 2006
Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Disclaimer
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