Fitness Facts: Back pain, Part 1
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
In 2014, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued this statement:
“About 80% of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days. In a large survey, more than a quarter of adults reported experiencing low back pain during the past three months.
“Men and women are equally affected by low back pain, which can range in intensity from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp sensation that leaves the person incapacitated.”
Causes of back pain:
The spine has a difficult job in that it must support the weight of the upper body and still be able to bend and twist in any direction. The greatest strain is placed on the lower back, particularly among people who do a lot of sitting or who are underactive.
Many conditions may cause back pain. Some, like pregnancy and emotional tension, are common, natural occurrences. Other factors that contribute to back problems include physical trauma, athletic injuries, poor physical fitness or being overweight.
- Overuse or improper use of the back (poor body mechanics) may cause painful muscle spasms or back strain – i.e., stretching or tearing of muscles.
- Weak abdominal muscles may cause back sprain – i.e., stretched or torn ligaments rather than muscles because of improper positioning of spine.
- Slipped or ruptured disks may cause pain if the disks press upon the spinal nerves. Pain may radiate throughout the legs as well as the back.
- Strain or soft tissue damage, secondary to injury
- Improper posture may cause back strain or sprain because of improper bending, lifting, sitting or standing.
As always, prevention is the key to illness and injury, and with back pain it is no different!
Here are a few tips on prevention from the NIH:
- Always stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.
- Don’t slouch when standing or sitting. The lower back can support a person’s weight most easily when the curvature is reduced. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet.
- At home or work, make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height.
- Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position and height for the task. Keep shoulders back. Switch sitting positions often, and periodically walk around the office or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of the back can provide some lumbar support. During prolonged periods of sitting, elevate feet on a low stool or a stack of books.
- Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.
- Sleeping on one’s side with the knees drawn up in a fetal position can help open up the joints in the spine and relieve pressure by reducing the curvature of the spine. Always sleep on a firm surface.
- Don’t try to lift objects that are too heavy. Lift from the knees, pull the stomach muscles in, and keep the head down and in line with a straight back. When lifting, keep objects close to the body. Do not twist when lifting.
- Maintain proper nutrition and diet to reduce and prevent excessive weight gain, especially weight around the waistline that taxes lower back muscles. A diet with sufficient daily intake of calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D helps promote new bone growth.
- Quit smoking. Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine, which can contribute to spinal disk degeneration. Smoking also increases the risk of osteoporosis and impedes healing. Coughing resulting from heavy smoking also may cause back pain.
So what do you do if you are experiencing back pain?
Stay tuned for next week’s article on the treatment of back pain.