Low back pain is not only a problem most people have at some point in life, but also the leading cause of disability in the U.S. Whether it is a sharp spasm from lifting something heavy or a daily constant ache, there are various treatments available to relieve your pain. Jessica Ryder PT, DPT, cert VRS, with Renown Health Outpatient Therapy, explains some common causes of this pain, how to treat it and ways to prevent pain flare-ups.
It’s important to realize most cases of low back pain are short term. Frequently lasting only a few days or weeks. In general these cases leave no long-term damage to the spine, muscles, discs or nerves. “However, it can become episodic or chronic (lasting longer than 12 weeks) if it is not properly understood or managed by the individual, ” cautions Ryder.
Causes of Pain
Specifically back discomfort can be related to:
- Wear and tear on the spine due to age or poor movement patterns
- Injury to spinal discs
- Sprains (overstretching or tearing of ligaments) and strains (tears in tendons or muscles)
- Irregularities of the spine present at birth (example: scoliosis)Notably the above issues may result in a “pinched nerve” or sciatica, causing pain to extend down the leg.
Risk Factors for Pain
In particular, your chance of developing low back pain increases with the risk factors below:
- Being overweight
- Low fitness level or occasional physical activity (“weekend warrior”)
- Family history
- Poor posture
- Jobs requiring heavy physical work (landscaping, plumbers, construction, etc.)
Treating the Pain
“The presence of pain can be frightening and often keeps us from moving. However, frequent, pain-free movement is key to recovering from an episode,” says Ryder.
“Gentle stretching and walking should be started as soon as possible after an injury or flare up,” Ryder suggests. “If you exercise regularly, keep up with your routine, but be aware of how you feel and make modifications to keep irritation to a minimum.”
Ice or Heat
“Ice and heat can both aid recovery and may be used as needed,” she says.
“Above all, if pain lasts beyond a few days, seek a referral to physical therapy for further evaluation. Then an individualized plan of care can be established for you,” recommends Ryder.
Preventing Pain with Lifestyle Changes
Although low back pain is a common complaint, Ryder says it can be prevented by:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Moving well and moving often
- Avoid sitting for a long time
- Change positions often
- Get regular exercise. Consistency is the key, so be sure to pick a form of exercise you find enjoyable and motivating!
- Optimizing the ergonomics of your work station
- Using proper lifting techniques. But if you are not sure how to properly lift, seek skilled guidance through physical therapy or a personal trainer.
- Avoiding tasks requiring repetitive bending and twisting (like shoveling snow)
Related: Get Moving: How to Exercise with Arthritis