With the numbers showing roughly 80-85% of the population will experience low back pain in their life times knowing some ways to help minimise and prevent this can come in handy. In particular we have been seeing a lot of low back pain when treating patients in the clinic and out and about with workplace assignments so I thought it would be good to look at some ways we can minimise or help prevent low back pain.
Looking predominately at office workers here as that is a large portion of the patients that I see through the clinic there are usually some common things reported from them ahead of having a low back pain incident. It’s good to be mindful of things such as these as they could be indicators you might be on your way to having some low back pain and discomfort. Patients commonly report having periods of increased workload, increased sitting for long periods of time, lifting small weights, which they thought, would not be a problem or a decrease in their normal physical activity. Usually it can be a combination of these or commonly reported is “I’m not sure what I did? If anything it’s just gradually come on”.
This blog is looking predominately at office workers who are more at risk of having mild to moderate discomfort from low back pain than a severe injury such as a prolapsed disc from heavy lifting activities, which can cause severe pain. We can see why the above are common when we think of things such as posture, movement (or lack of) and load on the low back.
Contrary to some beliefs, research has shown the best thing for low back pain on a mild to moderate severity of symptoms is actually movement. The back responds well to movement as the spine is designed to move in multiple directions. With the low back this movement is predominately forwards (flexion) and backwards (extension). When we sit for long periods of time our low back curves into forward flexion (as seen in the picture). If we have good muscle control, healthy body weight and a strong core we can maintain the low back posture in a nice neutral posture for about 30-45 minutes before the muscles will tire out and switch off. When this happens the spine will tend to “hinge” on it’s ligaments, joints and discs. If we do this “hinging” for long periods of time with our muscles “switched off” this can cause low back pain. Furthermore if after several hours of this we then get up and move and pick up something such as a ream of paper, this can be a vulnerable time for a reaching and bending task. Very similar to running a 100m sprint straight after sitting for hours, there is an increased chance of injury without a warm up.
For those who (like myself) do find themselves on an office day sitting for long periods, a great way to help prevent low back pain is through regular movement. Taking that a bit further it is also helpful if we move and exercise our spine to go the other way i.e. bend backwards into extension. If we think about how much time of our day we can spend in flexion (sitting/bend forward), driving, travelling to work, watching TV, eating, computer work etc.… its easy to see how our spine could lose flexibility bending backwards. This in turn creates extra load in flexion, so standing regularly and doing 5-10 back bends (ease into it as the first one can be a bit uncomfortable after long periods of sitting) throughout the day can go a long way towards keeping our spine flexible both ways and minimizing low back pain.
Also much like a warm up, the use of a simple heat pack can help prevent and minimise low back pain and discomfort. Heat helps increase the blood to the muscles and joints making movement a bit easier. A big reason why people get more pain and stiffness in winter compared to summer.
On top of the use of movement, bend back stretches, a good posture and heat, the best way to prevent low back pain is to keep physically fit and a healthy weight. This helps ensure the spine doesn’t have to carry too much load and the muscles are strong and firing to protect us as we move and do all things we want to! That said if you do experience significant low back pain and discomfort or pins and needles, numbness down the legs etc. it is highly recommended you see a health professional for more targeted management. Now after writing this over a laptop, time to stand and do some bend back movements!
As always have a productive and healthy day,
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