Note, this is the single most important secret I learned in China to reduce back pain. If you can only do one thing to relieve your pain, this is the one.
I haven't heard doctors in US mention this method. However, keeping the spine away from cold is the number one preventive mechanism recommended by all the doctors and patients I consulted in China.This seems to be a treatment philosophy difference. Doctors in China also use cold packs and/or heat packs to treat patients, but when patients are not under treatment, they are advised to keep the spine warm. When I googled the method in Chinese, I got pages and pages of discussions on it. But when I googled the method in English, I got nothing!
Readers, please answer the following few questions. If you answer yes to any of the question, protecting your spine from cold may help you.
- Do you feel more pain in winter than in summer?
- Do you have some sensation on your lower back when you enter an air-conditioned room in a hot summer day?
- Does your pain get worse after a sudden temperature drop?
- Does your pain get worse during or after rain?
My answers to all questions are "yes". It is very obvious to me that my pain gets worse in winter time after a temperature drop or after a rain. Keeping my spine warm is a life saving technique. A few times I don't wear my warm cushion brace, and my pain is much worse.
A warmer spine helps to increase the circulation around the spine joint, which brings in nutrient and takes out waste. The injury would heal itself faster if the spine is warmer. Thus, reducing the time required by other conservative treatments such as lying flat or traction.
There are two different kinds of cushion braces. The first kind is purely to keep the spine warm. It does not have any back support functionality. The second kind supports the back in addition to keeping the spine warm. Below I explain the two kinds and their correct use model.
The only purpose of a pure soft cushion brace is to protect the spine from cold. I have a self made soft cushion brace that I wear everyday. I still wear it even when I don't feel any pain at all. This method is a protection against pain, and when the pain comes, it reduces the severity of the pain. Please note, this brace does not have any support functionality, so it can be worn everyday. Do NOT wear the back support brace everyday. My self-made cushion brace is very simple. It is just a soft elastic tension strap with a soft cotton pad. You can easily make one yourself, simple, but effective.
The back support brace usually has steel or hard plastic strips in the brace so that it can support the back. Since it is also a brace, it can be served to keep the spine warm. However, do not wear back support brace everyday. Because the muscle around the waist needs to be strong in order to protect the spine. When the back is supported by the brace, the muscle does not carry enough weight and gets exercised as much. If wearing it for too long, the muscle becomes weaker and the spine cannot be protected. Above I show a picture of a back support brace I purchased in China. You can also find many similar back support braces in Amazon. In my opinion, they serve pretty much the same purpose, so a cheap one is good enough.
However, I do wear back support braces when I feel that my back is not strong enough to handle the intense activities, and would like to get some support from the braces to protect my back. I do that in the following situations:
- When I do heavy lifting work.
- When I take airplanes.
- When I drive long distances (more than two hours).
- When I hike in mountains.
- When I do activities that require strong back, such as tennis, badminton.
In addition to the back braces that protect the spine from cold passively, I also tried the single use heated wraps to warm up the spine actively. A sample of the heated wraps can be found below. From my experience, the heated wraps are especially useful when I am having the pain in the cold winter days. It can greatly reduce my pain levels. Sometimes the wrap is so hot that I have to be careful so I don't get burned. Readers, when you have severe back pain in winter and the soft back braces is not enough, you can try the heated wraps. Note however, you don't need to use the heat wraps if you don't have the pain.
Lastly, when I'm at home and would like to warm up the spine, I choose to use the electric heating pad. It serves the same purpose as heat wraps but it can be used repeatedly. I usually put it under my back when I'm lied in bed; and when I'm seated, I put it against the chair back. It is a very good economic device to keep my back warm at home during winter.
Note, the back support brace, the one time use heated wrap, and the electric heating pad cannot be used everyday. Only use the heated wrap and electric heating pad when you want to relieve your pain. Only use the back support brace when your back may get injured by the activity. Only the soft back brace can be used on a daily basis as a precaution.