Lower back pain is a fact of life for millions of people. Most people accept it as a part of getting older, but blind acceptance isn’t the best attitude. There are ways to limit the risk for lower back health conditions. There are also proven pain management techniques if you are currently struggling with one. You don’t need to suffer from lower back pain if you are properly prepared.
The number of Americans who experience a lower back pain problem is staggering. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that almost four out of five Americans will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives. Among these, almost 10 percent will suffer from chronic, debilitating pain. The cost to the country in medical expenses and lost productivity every year is more than $100 billion.
Most Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
If almost everyone encounters lower back pain, you would expect modern medicine to have a firm grasp of the mechanism behind it as well as the most effective pain management strategies. While physicians do have a better understanding of why lower back pain occurs, there are many mysteries that still need to be unraveled.
The human spine is composed of 30 bones called vertebrae. Within this complex network of bones is the spinal cord—the primary neural pathway between the brain and peripheral nerves. There are also spongy cushions of cartilage that prevent vertebrae from rubbing against one another. If any of the bones, nerves, connective tissue or muscles in the lower back malfunction, then chronic pain could result.
Here are some of the most common causes of lower back pain:
- Herniated disc—if one or more of the cartilaginous discs found between vertebrae is damaged or dislocated, then a part of the disc could bulge into the spaces where the nerves are found. This may result in chronic pain, numbness, tingling or sciatica.
- Spondylolisthesis—when a joint or ligament in the lower back is damaged, it can reposition one of the connected bones. This misaligned vertebra may press on the spinal nerves causing lower back pain.
- Spinal compression fractures—many people who suffer from osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones, experience fractures in the spinal column. Broken spinal bones may press on nerves, producing chronic or acute pain.
- Spinal stenosis—the channel in the spine that houses the spinal cord may shrink due to many health conditions like osteoarthritis, tumors or slipped discs.
Strategies for Preventing Lower Back Pain
Common wisdom suggests that lower back pain is inevitable, but the reality is that you can take action to avoid it. If you adopt these strategies from a young age, you may protect yourself far into the future.
- Good posture—when you sit or stand with poor posture, you place additional strain on your lower back. To maintain an optimal posture that minimizes lower back strain, try to keep your lumbar region in its natural position of a forward arch. Use ergonomic furniture to help you maintain a more natural posture and relieve strain.
- Strengthen your core—although any physical fitness regime will provide some health benefits, one of the best things to do for your lower back is core strengthening. If you can focus on your stomach muscles, back muscles and hip muscles.
- Lose weight—one of the most beneficial ways to protect your back is lose some of that belly fat. Not only does that extra fat pose many health problems, but it also pushes on your lower spine, distending it unnaturally and producing pain.
- Use correct lifting technique—many people first encounter back pain while lifting a heavy object. This initial step in lifelong pain could have been avoided if they had used their knees instead of bending at the waist.
- Eat a healthy diet—some simple changes to your dietary regimen can dramatically improve your back health and cut the risk for lower back pain. These include
- Drinking more water to help your spinal discs remain hydrated
- Eating foods rich in magnesium and calcium for bone health; these include fish, whole grains, leafy vegetables, milk and cheese.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine (which limits calcium absorption)
- Engage in stretching and strengthening exercises—many people find that low impact fitness programs like yoga or Tai Chi greatly improve core strength and flexibility, as well as provide key pain management benefits. If you lack the time for a full yoga session, at least stretch your hamstrings, a very important muscle group that stabilizes your pelvic and lower back muscles.
- Prepare for long trips—sitting a confined space for long periods of time is a recipe for lower back pain, so take precautions to protect your back when you are on a long flight or road trip. Get up every 30 minutes to allow circulation and muscle relaxation. Limit the weight of luggage, and use a lumbar support pillow.
- Relax—in our hectic lives, it can be difficult to reduce our stress but, doing so will improve your back health. Chronic stress often causes back muscles to compress, making it more difficult to support our spine. That is why taking some time out to get a massage, visit with friends or listen to soothing music is important for your long term back health.
Getting Help for Your Lower Back
If you are one of the millions of Americans who already suffer from lower back pain, many of the previous suggestions can still help you heal more quickly and prevent additional injury. If your lower back pain becomes chronic or severe, see a physician immediately—it could be a sign of a serious health issue.
In most cases, lower back pain will resolve in a few weeks on its own. If you need some pain management tips, consider applying heat to improve blood flow and OTC pain relievers like Tylenol or Motrin to relieve inflammation. A couple of days of bed rest may help, but too much may weaken your back.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees. The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship. Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.