Watch Your Back: How to Prevent Low Back Pain

Jun 23, 2013

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About 80% of us will experience some form of back pain in our lives. In the US, we will spend between 38 and 50...wait for it...billion dollars on low back pain this year alone; the heaviest hitter being the 300,000 surgeries performed annually, the 3rd most common form of surgery in the US. Sadly, studies show a very low percentage of people who consult their primary care provider for low back pain are referred by their provider to physical therapy or chiropractic in the first 90 days of an episode. Early intervention results in lower medical costs for these patients – about $2,800 lower – per patient! Now, if you're one of those people who enjoy statistics, then you probably love this post so far. But, if you're one of those people who'd prefer to not become a statistic, then this part's for you.

What Causes Low Back Pain?

Unfortunately for some, the negative effects of aging have caught up with them. As you age, bone strength and muscle flexibility decrease, vertebral discs lose fluid, and the spine loses its cushion. For others, it may be a sports injury or lifting a heavy object too quickly or incorrectly causing a strain or spasm in the back muscles. Others may experience trauma from a car accident, or suffer from arthritis, osteoporosis or obesity. Furthermore, other causes include smoking, weight gain during pregnancy, stress, poor sleep position, repetitive poor posture from spending too much time sitting at a desk or hunched over a computer, etc., etc. Okay, so that 80% number is starting to make more sense now, huh?

Now whether any of this applies to you and you've had a back injury, or you're now terrified that one is right around the corner (my apologies), here are some basic things to do to prevent a future low back injury.

Back Self-Assessment

But first, let's do a quick and dirty self-assessment. Get up out of that desk chair, back away from your keyboard, and give yourself some breathing room.

1. Stand with your feet together, knees straight, and bend down to touch your toes. Did you make it?
2. Now stand tall with your arms overhead and lean backwards. Can your shoulder blades go back beyond your heels?
3. Give yourself a hug and twist to the right, then again to the left. Can you see something directly behind you? Do both directions feel equal?
4. Can you stand and balance on one leg without your legs touching each other? How about for 10 seconds?
5. With your feet shoulder width apart and arms over your head, squat down like you were sitting in a chair. Can you get your hips down to 90 degrees?
6. Last but not least. Begin lying flat on your back on the floor. Can you stand up without using your hands to help?

So how'd it go? What you just performed was a quick, simple test for spinal flexibility, hip stability, functional mobility, and core strength (sorry, couldn't think of another -bility). Now no way no how does this replace a thorough, complete evaluation by a licensed medical professional. If you experienced pain, discomfort, or any asymmetries when performing these activities, consult a Physical Therapist or Chiropractor, your experts on low back pain (how convenient, we have both!). In the meantime, here's a good place to start.

Basics of Low Back Care

1. Go Take a Hike
This can mean many things. Got the time to walk a mile or so each day? Beautiful! Stuck in the office all day confined to your desk? Take short breaks every hour or so and get up and walk around. Even if just for a few moments, it can help break the pattern of prolonged sitting which causes tightening of muscles in your low back and legs that creates pain.
2. Stretch it Out
Set your alarm 5 minutes early in the morning and leave yourself a few at night as well. Tight muscles cause irregular forces on your skeleton and pull your body out of proper alignment. Make sure to hit your hamstrings and hip flexors as these have a direct impact on your low back.
3. Rock your Core
Most people think having a strong core means having "6-pack abs." Wrong! Your true core sits deep below your surface muscles. The Transversus Abdominis in the front, Multifidus in the back, and the Pelvic Floor below. True core stability requires all these parts working together, and strengthening your hips and glutes won't hurt either.
4. Catch some Z's
Unfortunately, no, simply taking a nap won't help prevent back pain, but sleeping correctly will. I recommend sleeping on your back as a first choice, but if you insist on side-sleeping then slip a pillow in between your knees for support. Sleeping on your stomach encourages low back and especially neck pain. Sleep is essential to healing and recovery, so get some rest.

If you, your family, or a friend are experiencing back pain or you just asked yourself, "what the heck is a transversus abdominis?," then give us a call to make an appointment to consult with our Physical Therapist (me) or Chiropractor, Dr. Welling. We can help accurately examine your current physical condition, assess any potential areas of risk, and design your own individualized exercise program to help prevent the future onset of low back pain. As always, we love to hear from you. Leave us a comment here, on Facebook, or Tweet at us!