As our lives become more sedentary, lower back (or lumbago) pain is becoming increasingly common; 80% of us will experience pain in this region at some point in our lives. Usually a sign of stress or damage to the muscles, ligament, tendons or discs, lower back pain can be painful, frustrating and debilitating.
What causes lower back pain?
Back pain often isn’t caused by anything serious and usually improves after a short time. It can be either ‘non-specific’ or ‘mechanical’. Non-specific back pain is where there is no known or obvious cause, while mechanical back pain results from pain in the joints, bones or soft tissue in the spine.
Mechanical back pain is usually a result of:
- Poor posture
- Lifting something awkwardly
- A minor injury such as a sprain or strain
- Feeling stressed or run down
Lifting heavy objects, twisting and sudden movements all leave the lower back prone to injury because they can cause the muscles and ligaments to overstretch or tear. Poor posture can also lead to lower back pain as it can cause muscle strains and soft tissue problems.
How can I prevent lower back pain?
Improve your posture Poor posture puts more pressure on your lower back and can cause any degenerated discs to become more painful. If you sit at a desk for most of the day, use an ergonomic chair and set a timer on your phone to remind you to check your posture regularly. Get up and walk around at least once every hour and, if possible, try using a stand-up desk for some of your working days.
Exercise your core Your core muscles are important for preventing injury to your lower back. Simple exercise such as walking and jogging help to increase the blood flow to the spine. The blood delivers nutrients and water to the lower back structures which help to keep them in top health.
Yoga can be helpful in strengthening your core and back muscles. Combining exercise with mental focus and breathing techniques encourages you to engage and strengthen your core. And it really works; a study has shown that yoga is a highly effective treatment for back pain.
- Lift heavy objects carefully Lifting heavy objects in the correct way is essential for avoiding lower back pain. Consider the following:
- Plan your lift before you execute it. Remove anything which might get in your way and plan resting points if needed.
- Keep the load as close to your waist for as long as possible when lifting to reduce the pressure on your back.
- Keep your balance. Spread your feet apart with one leg slightly forward. Make sure you are wearing sensible footwear.
- Don’t bend your back when lifting. Instead, bend your hips and keep your chest forward.
- Avoid twisting or leaning sideways and keep your shoulders level and pointing in the same direction as your hips
- Look ahead and not at the load.
- Move smoothly and with control
- Don’t lift more than you can manage and always ask for help if necessary.
Improve your overall fitness Your spine tells you a lot about the health of your body, so improving your overall health will invariably benefit your spine and back. Keeping yourself hydrated, giving up smoking, lowering your alcohol intake and eating a varied and balanced diet can all contribute to improved general health. Not smoking could also have a more direct impact on your lower back pain; smoking restricts the blood flow to the spinal discs, so smokers are actually more prone to suffering from back pain.
Give your hamstrings a stretch You might not have realised, but your hamstrings could be the cause of your lower back pain. Tight hamstrings put pressure on your pelvis and lower back. Not all stretches can be beneficial in this instance, so it is best to consult a physiotherapist or a doctor first for advice.
Watch how you sleep Your sleeping position can play a big part in your back health. If you sleep on your back, try placing a pillow under your hips to keep your back propped up. Sleeping on your front can put a lot of pressure on your spine, so place a pillow under your knees and lower back. The ideal sleep position is on your side with your knees pulled up slightly towards your chest, as this puts the least amount of strain on the back.
Your spine is an important structure and needs to be cared for like any other part of the body. Making a few simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in preventing lower back pain and injuries.
References Lederman, E. (2010). The Fall of the Postural-Structural-Biomechanical Model in Manual and Physical Therapies: Exemplified by Lower Back Pain. CPDO Online Journal, pp 1-14. Sherman, K, J et al. (2005). Comparing Yoga, Exercise, and Self-Care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain. Ann Intern Med: 143, pp 849-856.