Lower back pain is so common that about 80 percent of Americans will experience debilitating back pain at some point in their lives. For about 75 percent of those people, an episode of disruptive lower back pain will occur again within one year.
Back pain can occur for a variety of reasons, including genetics, ergonomics, injuries and lifestyle factors, but for many people, the cause of their pain is unknown. What we do know is that back pain can be a vicious cycle. When someone who is suffering from back pain spends more time on the couch or in bed due to pain, it actually increases their risk of future pain. Physical inactivity weakens the muscles, joints and core strength, making the back more prone to injury and pain.
New research offers those suffering from back pain hope that through lifestyle changes and regular exercise, repeated bouts of back pain may be prevented. In the review, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed studies on back pain prevention, looking at prevention techniques such as shoe orthotics, back belts, lifestyle changes, education and exercise programs.
Researchers found that back belts and orthotics were almost completely ineffective at preventing repeated episodes of lower back pain. Exercise programs — no matter what kind of exercise — on the other hand, were found to be especially beneficial in back pain prevention, and when combined with education, reduced the risk of an episode of back pain in the next year by 45 percent.
What kind of exercise is most helpful in preventing back pain? As researchers found, any kind of exercise can be beneficial, particularly low-impact exercise. Here are a few suggestions:
- Low-impact aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming, bike riding or rowing can increase strength and endurance in your back.
- Resistance training (weight lifting, body weight exercises, etc.) will build your core strength to provide better support for your spine.
- Flexibility exercises, such as yoga, can help align your hips, legs and pelvis to improve lower back pain.
It doesn’t take injury or trauma to cause back pain. Even daily activities can put strain on the back and spine. In addition to regular exercise, use these tips to make small adjustments to how you perform daily activities to help prevent back pain.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight adds stress to your body, especially your back, which is a precursor to injury. Losing excess weight can help eliminate existing back pain and prevent future pain.
- Stand tall. Maintain good posture when standing. Keep your shoulders back and down, stay relaxed and keep your hips and pelvis in a neutral position. If your job requires standing for long periods of time, place one foot on a low footstool to reduce the load on your lower back, and alternate feet every few minutes.
- Sit smart. Choose a desk chair with good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. If needed, place a small pillow or rolled towel at the small of your back. Keep your feet flat and your knees at hip level. Change your position frequently (about every 30 minutes) to avoid stiffness.
- Stretch regularly. Avoid sitting in one position for too long. If you work at a desk, it is important to take regular breaks to move and stretch. To release tension in your neck and upper back, sit up tall and circle your shoulders backwards several times, then relax. To release tension in your lower back, stand up and press your palms into your lower back for support. Then gently bend backwards. Pause for a moment, then relax.
- Protect your spine while you sleep. Sleeping on your back or your side with a pillow between your knees are the two best sleep positions for your back. Either of these positions will help keep your spine aligned, alleviating pain and reducing stress to your spine that could lead to back injury.
- Use caution when carrying heavy objects. Avoid lifting heavy objects. When you do, lift with your legs (bend at the knees) and keep your back straight. Hold the load close to your body. When possible, find someone to help you lift, carry or move heavy objects.
If you suffer from prolonged or frequent back pain, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. Goshen Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine can help minimize back pain and maximize recovery. For more information about how we can treat your back pain, call 574.534.2558.