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Lower Back Pain Prevention

By Alan Williams, PT, OTR/L, ATC, CSCS

You’ve probably heard the saying, “There are only two constants in life – death and taxes.” To those, many people would probably add a third – low back pain. The idea is not farfetched considering that over 90% of adults will experience back pain at some point in their life. Factor in our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, bad posture, and poor nutrition, and you’ve got a recipe for back disaster. In fact, if you’re fortunate enough to beat the odds and never experience back pain in your entire life, you ought to be the subject of a major scientific study.

But wait – why can’t we all beat the odds? We don’t have to just sit back and accept low back pain as a fact of life, do we? Not if you ask me! While there are many things about the back that we’re still figuring out, the medical community has progressed in learning to manage low back pain in the last several years, and it’s no longer the life-long sentence it was for your grandparents or even your parents. In this article, I’ll discuss ways you can help reduce your chances of getting low back pain, and just in case you find yourself suffering from an episode of it, I’ll talk about how to treat it.

“Prevention is the best medicine” is another well-known saying, and it’s a wise one at that. While there are many conditions which cause low back pain that we can’t yet prevent (like arthritis and osteoporosis), low back pain is often equally caused by our lifestyle choices. To start off, let’s talk posture. Proper posture is not just about sitting up straight at the dinner table like grandma always told you to; it’s how you sit, stand, walk, run, dance, drive, sleep, and breathe. In other words, it’s a way of life. When you have correct posture, your ears, shoulders, and hips are aligned, your head is level, and your stomach is in. This maintains the spine’s natural S-curve shape and allows the bones, muscles, and tendons to each do their job at the most efficient level, thereby reducing fatigue, weakness, and pain. Practice it during every part of your day (a small pillow under your lower back or between your knees creates proper postural alignment while sleeping), and you’ll win a major battle in the war against low back pain.

In addition to posture, you can help prevent back pain by getting regular exercise, eating a nutritious diet (including ample amounts of calcium), using proper lifting technique, getting up to stretch during long periods of inactivity (such as working at your desk or while on a long flight), and wearing comfortable, supportive shows with a flat or moderate heel.

Lumbago (acute or short-term low back pain) can often be treated successfully at home. Begin by resting your back, but only for a day or two. Remaining inactive for longer than that will actually prolong your recovery because your back needs to function in order to…well, function. But don’t throw yourself into a rugby match right away; start small by sprinkling 10-30 minute activity sessions throughout your day. These sessions should be comprised of walking and gentle stretching. As you begin to feel better, increase your activity accordingly. You can also use heat and ice to relieve sore muscles and reduce pain.

If your back pain gets worse or simply does not improve within a few days, visit your physical therapist or doctor. They may need to perform tests to rule out a more serious injury or condition. And remember – any back pain that’s accompanied by loss of bowel/bladder control, sudden numbness and loss of coordination, and/or fever requires emergency medical attention.

We don’t have to succumb to the inevitability of low back pain. With a few preventative measures, we can help ourselves to beat the odds and keep death and taxes in a class by themselves.

Call 463-0022 today for your FREE Back Pain Assessment!