Relaxing can be tough when you suffer from chronic lower back pain. However it's vital to learn how to do it if you want to fight back and become pain-free.
The thought of relaxing when you have back pain sounds pretty ridiculous right?
I mean how are you supposed to relax when your body is on fire?
No matter whether you sit, stand or lie down you can never get comfortable because of the pain.
It hangs around nagging away at you every second which destroys your sense of inner peace and well-being.
And this doesn't just leave you in pain physically.
It makes you anxious, stressed and grumpy as hell too.
Which are not the ideal conditions for a relaxing evening at home!
However this is a problem you need to fix.
Because being unable to relax is likely making your back pain even worse.
As when we are stressed we tend to hold this tension within our bodies.
And this leads to a vicious circle where your muscles get tighter, which makes you more stressed, which makes them even tighter and more painful still!
However by taking the time to relax your body and mind each day you can break this cycle of pain.
So read on and I'll show you 12 easy ways you can do this and start leading a more comfortable and less painful life right away.
And trust me your back will thank you for it.
How Does Relaxing Help Your Back?
Now this idea of relaxing may appear to go against the 'fight back against back pain' motto that this site is based upon.
But not every battle is won through brute force.
Sometimes you need to box clever and one way to do this is by learning how to relax.
But how does relaxing help your back when it's in pain?
To understand this you need to know the damaging effect that stress can have on your body.
Because when you feel stressed out and anxious changes happen within your body that lead to muscle tension and pain.
For example when your body feels your anxiety it senses that you could be in danger so prepares itself for fight or flight mode.
As a result your muscles become tense and tight.
And holding this tension within your body can cause you to adopt a hunched posture which places your lower back under increased pressure and strain.
Also your breathing becomes short and shallow which causes tightness in your mid-back and chest areas.
As well as limiting the amount of oxygen in your body.
So your mental and emotional stresses transfer themselves into your muscles and cause you pain.
Bad news all round!
You've probably felt this tension yourself when stressed especially in your shoulder and neck areas right?
And the problem with chronic pain is that the pain can be so all-consuming that it makes it hard to think of anything else.
Which makes it so easy to get stuck in a vicious circle where you constantly worry about the pain you're feeling but this worrying about it only makes the pain worse!
So the key to breaking this cycle of pain is to learn how to relax and you need to do this in two ways:
- Find ways to take your mind off the pain.
- Release tension from your tight and aching muscles.
Because by relaxing and releasing stress and tension from your mind and body your muscles will feel looser and more free.
This will help them to heal and recover and keep them healthy in the future.
And this will reduce the pain you're in and make it less likely to return.
Which will make your back feel a hell of a lot better in the long run.
The Many Other Benefits Of Taking The Time To Relax
Once you've learnt how to relax properly you'll feel great and it will make your back feel a lot happier too.
And the good news is that it isn't just your back that will benefit from relaxing, as there are many other ways it will also help you.
- Help you to sleep better which is vital for keeping your body and mind in tip-top condition.
- Increase your circulation which helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and tissues to keep them healthy.
- Lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of strokes, and keep your heart healthy.
- Boost your immune system.
- Improve your memory, concentration and problem solving abilities.
- Ward off depression and help to improve your mood.
- Restore energy and give you a positive outlook.
- Help you to maintain a healthy libido!
- Clear up skin problems like acne and psoriasis.
- Keep you healthier by lowering cravings for junk food and alcohol.
So make time in your busy day or evening just to relax.
It may feel like time wasted if you are constantly in a busy, productive frame of mind.
But the health benefits it can bring you make it time very well spent in my opinion.
The Best Ways To Relax And Beat Back Pain
Ok now to the crux of the matter.
How can you relax when you are in constant pain?
Well to truly relax you need to learn how to calm both the body and the mind in spite of the pain.
There are many ways to do this and the right way will be different for everybody.
So I've compiled this list of relaxation methods so you can try a few out and see which ones work best for you.
Ultimately anything that loosens your muscles, eases tension, takes your mind off the pain, and makes you feel calm and happy is a good relaxation technique to use.
1. Get a Massage
Getting a massage can feel like total bliss right?
When you find a skilled masseuse with magical fingers all your troubles seem to just float away.
You may even feel so relaxed that you fall asleep on the table (I know I have in the past!).
And you leave that massage room feeling like you haven't got a care in the world afterwards.
Back pain just doesn't get a look in.
And it's not just good for your mind and soul, it's also great at relaxing your tense muscles.
As a good masseuse will be able to work out and release tight muscle knots which will:
- Increase blood flow to your damaged muscles delivering them the oxygen and nutrients they need to heal and repair.
- Flush away the trapped waste and toxins that are damaging them.
This will work wonders for reducing your pain as your muscles will feel loose and free rather than tight and tense.
So if you can stretch to it getting a massage once or twice a week can be a great way of relaxing and releasing tension in both your muscles and your mind.
2. Give Yourself a Massage
Now if regular massages are too much of a luxury (and they are for most of us) don't despair.
Because the good news is that you can still get the same benefits as a professional massage in the comfort of your own home for a fraction of the cost.
And that is by learning how to self-massage.
Now don't worry as you don't need to be super skilled and flexible to be able to do this.
As there are many self-massage tools on the market that will help you to get to those hard to reach spots.
They are all very affordable to buy and I'd recommend them to anyone suffering from back pain that wants to relax and gain some relief.
Among the many options available to you are:
- Acupressure mats that work on your acupressure points as you lie down on them to release tight muscle knots.
- Foam rollers that you place under your body and roll up and down over to release tight muscles and blockages.
- Massage canes that have nobs that work into your muscle knots to get them to release.
- Massage balls that you place between your body and the floor to work out your tight muscles (you can even use a tennis ball for this if you like).
So give self-massage a try for yourself.
Not only is it great for relaxing tense muscles it can also be a great help for managing pain in the long run too.
And if you really want to push the boat out and go for the ultimate in relaxation how about trying a massage chair?
These come with price tags that can make you weep, but if you have the spare cash they are a fantastic way to relax and switch off after a stressful day.
3. Get Some Exercise
Exercising may not be the first thing you think of when you are trying to relax but staying active can be really helpful for keeping your body loose and calm.
And for people with chronic lower back pain it's even more helpful as it has been shown to:
- Reduce pain levels.
- Increase range of motion.
- Make them more flexible.
- Improve circulation.
- Reduce stress.
- Put them in a good mood.
- Make it easier to sleep.
- Increase overall health and well-being.
All of which will keep you healthy and make it much easier to relax in the evenings.
Because not only will exercising help you to use up excess energy.
It's also great for working out muscle tension and tightness leaving your body feeling relaxed and sated afterwards.
And another bonus is the release of endorphins that comes from exercising.
These endorphins are the body's natural painkiller and will help you to self-medicate against the pain you are feeling.
And they are also mood enhancers which is why you get such a buzz after exercising.
So exercising will make you feel happier which will help to calm your mind and push out those negative thoughts about pain.
Putting you in the perfect position to truly relax and let go of the days stresses.
Now certain exercises are better for relaxation purposes than others and I'd recommend trying some of the following to begin with:
- Going for a walk which also has the added benefit of getting you out in the fresh air, into nature, hearing the birds singing, etc!
- Taking a hatha yoga class that works on gentle stretches and regulating your breathing. Seriously relaxing!
- Going for a swim (this one's my favourite as I find the water amazingly therapeutic).
- Having a good stretch at home to help your muscles to release and loosen up.
You should find that getting into the habit of exercising regularly reduces stress and makes it much easier for you to relax afterwards.
Just remember not to overdo things and you're golden.
4. Practice Deep Breathing
Your breathing becomes shallow when you are stressed out and this heightens the sense of anxiety felt within your brain.
And this anxiety is then transmitted to your body making you feel tense and uncomfortable.
However when you consciously slow your breathing down it can reverse this effect.
As the increase in the amount of oxygen to the brain calms your nervous system which in turn helps to relax your body.
And this state of calm that is brought on by deep breathing can also:
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Slow your heart rate.
- Reduce stress and tension in your mind and body.
So it's a great idea to make time to practice deep breathing for at least 15 minutes per day.
It will put you in a relaxed and calm frame of mind and can really help to ease the tension in your muscles.
And the focus on your breathing will also help to take your mind off your back pain starving it of the attention it craves.
Now there are a few deep breathing exercises you can try that are great for relaxing such as:
- Belly breathing - Consciously breathing deeply into your abdomen rather than your chest.
- Equal breathing - Inhaling and exhaling for the same period of time (4, 6 or 8 seconds).
- Square breathing - Inhaling for a count of 4 seconds, holding your breath for 4 seconds, exhaling for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 4 seconds.
- 4-7-8 breathing - Inhaling for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, exhaling for 8 seconds.
And for more information on deep breathing exercises click here.
Also a good app I use myself to guide me through these breathing exercises is the Pranayama Universal Breathing app which you can download to your smartphone.
And the good thing is once you learn these techniques they can be done anywhere.
So whether you are on the bus or train, at work, or out doing your daily chores take a deep breath.
As you are armed with a way of immediately reducing stress and anxiety and restoring your peace of mind.
Which in this hectic modern world we live in isn't such a bad thing at all!
Meditation has been shown in recent studies to be a good treatment option for people with chronic lower back pain.
And a big reason for this is the way it calms and relaxes your mind and body.
Firstly by focusing your mind during meditation you can achieve a calm and clear mental state.
This happens as you become present and choose to step away from the endless chatter of the mind which allows it to take a much needed break.
And the focus on deeper and controlled breathing in meditation practice will also help to slow down your heart rate and calm your nervous system.
So meditation is great for reducing stress and anxiety both mentally and physically.
And it can be help your back pain too as you:
- Observe and accept the thoughts about pain that run through your mind but choose not to engage with them.
- Move your focus away from the pain you are experiencing to happier and calmer thoughts and places.
This helps massively as focusing on your pain increases it's intensity.
So by taking this focus away you are also taking away it's hold over you and as such it won't be able to affect you as much.
Now meditation takes a bit of practice at first but you have plenty of resources online to help you.
For example there are hundreds of meditation videos on YouTube that will guide you through your practice such as the one below.
There's also a great app you can download to your smartphone called Headspace.
This has daily meditations on it, is super easy to follow, and is great for keeping you motivated and interested.
Take a look for yourself below.
All in all meditation is a great way to relax your mind and body and could be a game changer when it comes to your back pain.
- Reduce stress, tensions and anxiety.
- Regulate your emotions and keep you on an even keel.
- Lower your perception of pain and therefore it's intensity.
- Help you to relax and sleep better as a result.
So don't be put off by thinking that meditation is all about hippies, incense candles and mantras. It's not.
It's just a great way to focus and calm your mind and help you to handle your pain in a healthier way.
6. Soak in a Nice Warm Bath
Using heat therapy is another great way of taking the edge off persistent pain and relaxing both your body and mind.
This works in two ways:
- The heat stimulates blood flow in the area of pain and tightness which helps to deliver the oxygen and nutrients that your muscles need to heal.
- The sensation of heat irritates your skin's sensory receptors to the point where it overrides and blocks pain signals from reaching your brain.
And this makes applying heat to your back a great thing to do regularly to help you to relax and stay pain-free.
Now there are a few different ways you can do this such as using:
However a simple and easy way is to have a nice, long soak in a warm bath.
This allows the heat to really penetrate deep into your tight and tired muscles.
And who can fail to feel relaxed in the bath tub?
So reach for the epsom salts, put your favourite music on light some candles.
And don't forget your rubber duck.
Because this could be the most enjoyable and easy way to relax on the list.
7. Listen to Soothing Music
Music is really powerful.
As it can plug directly into your emotions and influence you in both the body and the mind.
Now I'm sure you've all felt the emotional rollercoaster that listening to different types of music can take you on.
It can lift you, soothe you, energise you, make you smile, make you cry, and transport you to a different place and time within a few bars.
And it's also been found to be a great help for people with chronic pain.
As listening to soothing music can lower their sensation of pain and improve their overall mood and outlook.
And the even better news is that you can also use the power of music to help you to relax and forget about your pain too.
This works both physically and mentally.
Firstly listening to soothing music can slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce the amount of stress hormones within your body.
And it also slows down you rate of breathing which helps to calm your nervous system.
So your body can unwind nicely as you listen to your favourite album.
And it can also absorb your attention to the point where it distracts your brain from the pain signals that your body is sending its way.
This lowers the levels of pain you will feel which will have a relaxing effect on both your mind and your body.
So listening to your favourite music can be a great way to relax.
And you use this relaxing effect throughout the day.
So try listening to your favourite music when driving to work in your van or car.
Or if possible put the radio on in the background as you work (I'd be lost without a radio at work).
This will help you to stay calm in otherwise stressful environments and situations.
And singing along can also help to relieve tension (for you anyway. It may increase tension for your neighbours or workmates!).
As to which type of music you should listen to when you want to relax I'd say that should be your own choice.
In most studies it seems that classical and 'chill out' type music have the best results but I'd say just listen to the music you love and find what works for you.
Making yourself a playlist on Spotify of the music that leaves you feeling warm and calm can be a great go to when you're feeling stressed out.
And as a side note there has actually been scientific research carried out on which are the most relaxing songs of all time and they came up with this top 10.
I'm not sure they would make my top 10 but they obviously do something right so might be worth checking out!
8. Find a Hobby That Works for You
Another way to distract your mind away from pain is to absorb yourself in a hobby or activity that you enjoy.
Distraction is really effective because our brains and nervous systems only have a limited capacity to take in information at any one time.
And usually pain signals would be at the front of the queue for their attention.
But when you give your mind and body other things to think about instead the pain signals can get blocked out.
So you feel less pain.
And this is where losing yourself in a hobby or activity can really help you to relax.
The benefits of finding a hobby you enjoy are as follows:
- It takes your mind off pain and the negative thoughts you may be having about this pain.
- Doing something you enjoy releases the feel-good chemical dopamine into your system which improves your mood and activates the reward center of your brain.
- The repetitive motions that come from engaging in craft-type hobbies are therapeutic and help to calm your nervous system.
- They can also put you into a 'flow' state where you become so absorbed in what you're doing that the hours seem to fly past and your pain doesn't get a look in.
All of which will help you to de-stress and relax after a tough day.
These benefits of repetitive motions and flow experienced by doing hobbies is explained well in the video below:
And if you can get these benefits during the day too then even better.
For instance I know that I regularly get into a flow state when I'm painting and decorating and it really does make me feel relaxed, calm and contented throughout the day.
And you can achieve this flow state in a number of ways such as through participating in sports or undertaking art projects.
So if you currently don't have any hobbies outside of work seriously consider taking one up.
There are so many options available to you and this list may give you a few ideas:
- Playing an instrument.
- Learning a new language.
The list is endless really.
And an added bonus of some hobbies is that they are social.
Which is great as you'll be getting the human connections and social interactions that we all need to stay mentally and emotionally healthy.
And even better if these interactions involve laughter too.
As there is no better way of releasing tension than having a good belly laugh!
So don't let your pain prevent you from taking up a hobby as your back could really benefit from it.
9. Get a Pet
Now this one sounds a bit off the wall but hear me out.
Because having a pet at home, especially a dog or a cat, can really help you to relax and de-stress.
This is helpful in a number of ways.
Firstly dogs and cats love to be petted (in fact some are quite insistent upon it and won't leave you alone unless you rub their tummies!).
And judging by the closed eyes, wagging tail or purring that follows this is deeply satisfying for them.
But this form of affection is't just good for your pet, it's also great for you too.
Because when you are stroking your pet your body releases feel-good relaxing hormones that make you feel happy and content.
As well as lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.
And having a pet is also good for your mental and emotional health too.
I mean who can stay mad and stressed out when you are enthusiastically greeted at the door every night by so much unconditional love?
They are just always so pleased to see you that it can't help but give you a warm and happy feeling inside.
And having a loyal companion like this can also ward off feelings of loneliness that may be bringing your mood down.
Also having a dog will make you go out for regular walks which will help you to work off energy as well as get a bit of fresh air.
And it can be a social activity too as you get to know and talk to the other dog walkers on your route.
So having a pet has such a positive impact on your mood and overall health that it can't fail to help you to relax and take your mind off your aching back.
Man's best friend indeed.
10. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a good way of releasing tension from within your body and helping your muscles to fully relax.
The idea is that consciously tensing a group of muscles, holding this tension, then releasing it suddenly helps them to go into a relaxed state.
And that by coordinating this with your breathing and mental focus as you work each muscle group you can achieve a deep level of relaxation.
Which not only lowers stress and tension levels but also makes you better aware of how this tension feels within your body.
And this makes it easier to spot and nip in the bud as it builds up throughout the day.
So how exactly do you practice progressive muscle relaxation?
Beginning with your upper body and working your way down one area at a time follow this sequence:
- Focus your attention on the area you are working on at listen to your body to feel where the tension is.
- Now tense the muscles in this area only and hold for 10 seconds.
- Release suddenly and allow your muscles to relax.
- Focus your attention on the area again and notice how it feels different.
- Move on to the next area and repeat.
For a more detailed description of the progressive muscle relaxation technique click here.
And to get an idea of what this might look like in practice take a look at the video below:
The good thing about progressive muscle relaxation is that it's not just a good relaxation technique.
As it has also been shown to reduce perception of pain, stress and improve the general well-being of people with chronic lower back pain.
So definitely a good technique to have in your armoury in the fight against back pain.
And one that can help your tense and aching muscles to relax and let go.
11. Turn Your Smartphone Off
We are all constantly attached to our smartphones nowadays.
So much so that they have become an essential part of living effectively and have made most tasks a lot easier.
Which is a great thing in so many ways.
But the problem is they can also kill your chances of relaxing.
Because while phones allow us to do more than we ever thought possible a decade ago they also keep us connected 24/7.
Which means you don't get any respite from your work or social life.
Or the constant stream of news and information.
And this leaves your brain in a heightened state of stimulation and arousal which can make you stressed out, anxious and desperate for a break.
So take a deep breath and step away from your phone for a couple of hours each day.
I know this is really hard to do as they are addictive little buggers but it really is essential if you are going to truly relax.
Try doing it in stages.
First turn off notifications and don't check social media.
If you want to avoid being disturbed by calls and texts too switch it to silent or leave your phone in another room.
And if you're feeling REALLY brave turn of your WiFi and 4G and turn your smartphone back into......a phone!
- No work emails to get stressed out about.
- No photos of friend's children or pets to feel obliged to like and comment on.
- No impending sense of doom from the relentless stream of depressing news on your Twitter feed.
- A relaxed and calm brain that can fully relax.
Try it and you'll really notice the difference.
And you'll be able to switch off in more ways than one.
12. Do What Makes YOU Feel Relaxed
Now I've listed a lot of great ways to relax your body and mind here so you should find a few that work for you.
But I realise that everyone is different.
And no-one will know which activities you find relaxing better than you.
There may even be things that relax you that other people would find strange.
But don't worry about that because if something relaxes you then go with it.
The end result will be the same whatever you try, it's just a case of tailoring ways to relax that do the trick for you.
So if things that would over stimulate others such as listening to death metal, playing video games, or getting involved in extreme sports help you to relax then keep doing them.
After all, it's the destination that's important not how you get there.
Have you found some things here that will help you to relax?
I hope so because being stressed can transmit so much tension and tightness into our bodies and leave our backs screaming in pain.
So make time in the day or evening just to relax.
I know this isn't easy when you are in pain but it really is essential.
As by relaxing your body and mind you are reducing pains hold over you and giving yourself a much better chance of fighting back pain.
So good luck and if you have any more suggestions or activities that help you to relax please share them in the comments below.
Resources used in researching this article: