I have a chronic illness called Chiari Malformation (read more about that here) that causes chronic pain all over my body, focusing on my back, shoulders, neck, and head. Back pain is fairly common for college students, so I decided to put together a list of ways I am helping to manage my back pain both inside and outside the classroom. I’m not a doctor though, so try any of these things at your own risk, or talk to a real doctor if you’re unsure.
Chair supports in class
My desk chair (read more about my desk here) is extremely comfortable, and I wanted to mimic the same comfort at my school desks. I started carrying a chair support in my backpack to clip onto my desk chairs, so I could have better support when sitting for long periods of time. I carry mine in either my rolling backpack or another large bag I use in my classes, and have had no issues with my professors- though I did let them know what I was doing. Here is the exact support I have.
Oh, Lidocaine patches, how much I love you. I always keep a few of these in my bag (more on that here) and wear them when I have long classes ahead or am having a particularly bad spasm day. They help tremendously with helping to numb pain, and they are available both as a prescription and also over the counter.
Small back brace
After messing up my back during band rehearsal one night, I got a back brace from Target that discreetly layers under my clothes, and prevents me from straining my back too much while playing. I especially recommend this for anyone who does a lot of standing.
Staying in bed
While it’s bad to stay in bed all of the time and not move, it’s important to have a place to rest that will promote a healing environment. Read more about my college bed here.
Taking stretch breaks
Three hour lecture classes are common in my major, and I can’t sit for that long without messing up my back or legs. My professors are very good about giving breaks to students during the class period, and I make sure to remind new professors that I need a short break. I really don’t like missing class or having to get up and wander around the room while everyone else is trying to learn.
Being active, within limits
You won’t catch me running a marathon or playing a game of volleyball, but I do make time to exercise and move around so I’m not dormant all of the time. I take a walk every day around campus, usually with a friend, go to the gym a few times a week, or spend some time at yoga, modifying positions as needed.
Using my TENS unit every night
I have a portable TENS unit that I use every day- once on my upper back, and once on my lower back. This helps a lot with reducing tension and treating spasms. Here is the exact unit I have.
Spending time in the shower or in a hot tub is very beneficial for helping with back pain. I’ve also found saunas to be helpful, but don’t use them overly often because they are so crowded.
No heavy lifting
I do my best to not lift anything much heavier than a gallon of milk, as I know that will only put more strain on my back. Instead, I use things like carts and rolling backpacks so I don’t hurt myself trying to carry things.
Hot and cold gel packs are amazing, as they are able to conform to the body. Many also have straps that can be wrapped around and secured, which is especially helpful for sleep.
Even though I can’t get rid of all of my back pain, everyone is different and may find benefit or even relief from pain using these tips. I hope this is helpful for other students dealing with mild back pain to pain from chronic conditions.