About 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. I suffer from it periodically as a result of lifting something incorrectly over 30 years ago, and my husband is now suffering. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days.
Men and women are equally affected by lower back pain. Pain can begin abruptly as a result of an accident or by lifting something heavy, or it can develop over time due to age-related changes of the spine and a sedentary lifestyle.
Most low back pain is acute, lasting a few days to a few weeks. It tends to resolve on its own with self-care. Chronic back pain is defined as back pain that persists for 12 weeks or longer.
The occurrence of low back pain has grown worse in recent years. In 1990, a study ranking the most burdensome health conditions in the U.S put low back pain in sixth place. In 2010, low back pain jumped to third place, with only heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) ranking higher. This is likely a result of an increase in obesity and the lower levels of physical activity.
Below are some recommendations for preventing lower back pain:
• A regimen of low-impact exercises is advised. Speed walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding 30 minutes daily to increase muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga also can help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture. Talk with a personal trainer for suggestions on a low-impact, age-appropriate exercise program that is specifically targeted to strengthening lower back and abdominal muscles.
• Don’t slouch when standing or sitting. The lower back can support a person’s weight best when the unnatural curvature is reduced. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet with your knees slightly bent (never locked).
• At home or work, make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height. Unfortunately, most of our homes have bathroom sinks at too low of a height for our backs.
• Sit in chairs with good lumbar support and sit in proper position and height for the task. Keep shoulders back. Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around the office/house or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of the back can provide some lumbar support. During prolonged periods of sitting, elevate feet on a low stool or a stack of books.
• Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.
• Sleeping on your side with your knees drawn up in a fetal position can help open up the joints in the spine and relieve pressure by reducing the curvature of the spine; always sleep on a firm surface.
• Do not lift objects that are too heavy. Lift from the knees by bending them, pulling the stomach muscles in, and keeping your head down and in line with a straight back. When lifting, keep objects close to your body. Never twist when lifting.
• Keep your weight within 10 pounds of what is recommended. Do not carry extra weight around your waistline because this extra weight adds more stress to those lower back muscles. My back always begins to bother me when I put on an extra pound or two, and goes away when I take it back off.
• Eat a healthy diet containing a sufficient daily intake of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D.
• Quit smoking. Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine, which can contribute to spinal disc degeneration. Smoking also increases the risk of osteoporosis. Coughing due to heavy smoking also may cause back pain.
If you are suffering back pain and are not exercising regularly, I recommend consulting your healthcare provider about beginning an exercise program.
By: Janet Hunt
Janet Hunt is a Certified Personal Trainer and can be reached at 256-614-3530 to schedule an appointment.