Seems like almost everyone has lower back pain at some time. Matter of fact it is one of the top causes of missed work in this country. Lower back pain can range from just a dull ache to shooting pains. Lower back pain can make it difficult to move or even stand up straight. Acute pain comes on suddenly and is often the result of an injury or heavy lifting. Chronic pain is pain over a long period. Both acute and chronic lower back pain need to be checked by a doctor.
The kind of back pain that follows heavy lifting or exercising too hard is often caused by muscle strain. But sometimes the back pain can be related to a disc that bulges or ruptures (often called a herniated disk). If a bulging or ruptured disk presses on the sciatic nerve, pain may run from the buttock down one leg. This is called sciatica. Sometimes a job that involves lifting, pulling, or anything that twists the spine, may contribute to back pain. However, sitting at a desk all day can be a problem, too. A purse, backpack, or briefcase over your shoulder can cause back pain because it is the lower back that supports the upper body and anything you carry. Overdoing it during exercise or playing a sport such as golf may result in back pain as well, especially if you tend to be inactive most other times.
Poor posture is also a problem. Your back supports weight best when you don’t slouch. This means sitting with good lumbar support, shoulders back, and your feet resting on a low stool. Being overweight and an inactive lifestyle can contribute to low back pain.
Back pain due to muscle strain will usually get better on its own. A heating pad or warm bath may provide temporary pain relief. You may not feel like getting out of bed when your back hurts, but if the problem is muscle strain, often doctors recommend returning to your normal activities as soon as possible. Often, bed rest can actually make the pain worse by losing muscle tone and flexibility.
If pain does not go away after a few months, yoga or other conventional stretching exercises may help. Make sure your instructor is experienced at working with people with back pain and can modify postures and stretches for you. Massage therapy may relieve chronic low back pain, especially when combined with exercise and stretching.
Lower back pain can often be helped with over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen. Pain-relieving creams may be helpful for muscle aches. For severe pain or chronic pain, your doctor may recommend prescription medication.
If medications are not helping, injections into the back may help. Injections usually contain steroids. If long-lasting back pain is interfering with your daily life, and other treatments have not provided relief, you may be a candidate for surgery or physical therapy. A physical therapist can show you stretches, strength exercises, and low-impact cardio exercises that may relieve pain and strengthen your back.
There’s no sure way to prevent back pain as you age, but the steps to lower your risk include staying at a healthy weight, exercising regularly, lifting with your legs, not your back, and making sure your work station position isn’t contributing to your pain.
By: Janet Hunt
Janet Hunt is a Certified Personal Trainer and can be reached at 256-614-3530 to schedule an appointment.