Maybe it started with a “pop” in your lower back when you bent down to retrieve that little piece of paper you dropped and you noticed a strained feeling and limited range of motion. Or one day you got out of bed and felt pain radiating down your leg. However it begins, lower back pain is one of the most common health complaints for adults. In fact, about 80 percent of adult men and women will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, the majority of lower back pain issues are caused by “mechanical” issues. Here are five of the most common of those mechanical causes:
- Sprains and strains, usually caused by twisting or lifting something improperly, lifting something too heavy or overstretching, sometimes also resulting in painful back spasms.
- Herniated or ruptured discs, which can result from the intervertebral discs becoming compressed.
- Sciatica, pain that results from compression of the sciatic nerve, the large nerve that travels through the buttocks and extends down the back of the leg.
- Osteoporosis, which causes bones to become fragile and brittle, can result in compression fractures in the spine’s vertebrae.
- Intervertebral disc degeneration, usually resulting from the normal aging process, whereby discs deteriorate and lose their ability to cushion and provide flexibility.
In the case of sprains and strains, lower back pain will usually improve within a couple of weeks with home treatment and self-care. Other types of pain require a doctor’s care and possibly physical therapy, medication, nerve block therapies and/or surgery.
Risk Factors and Prevention
There are several factors that can put you at risk for developing lower back pain, including:
- Age — the older you are, the more likely you are to develop back pain
- Carrying excess weight, which puts added stress on the back
- Lack of exercise, which results in weak muscles
- Illnesses such as arthritis, osteoporosis and cancer
- Improper lifting technique, using your back instead of your legs
- Poor posture while standing or sitting increases stress on back muscles
- Smoking, which damages the body and contributes to degenerative problems
Knowing what these factors are is a great first step in preventing lower back pain. After all, wouldn’t you rather avoid it if you can and prevent a recurrence, rather than suffer from it? So, let’s look at some ways you can prevent lower back pain before it starts.
The Mayo Clinic makes these recommendations to keep your back healthy and strong:
Exercise. Regular low-impact aerobic activities — those that don’t strain or jolt your back — can increase strength and endurance in your back and allow your muscles to function better. Walking and swimming are good choices.
Build muscle strength and flexibility. Abdominal and back muscle exercises strengthen your core and help condition these muscles so that they work together like a natural corset for your back. Flexibility in your hips and upper legs aligns your pelvic bones to improve how your back feels. Your doctor or physical therapist can tell which exercises are right for you.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight strains back muscles. If you’re overweight, trimming down can prevent back pain.
Before you begin any exercise program or diet, consult your doctor. He or she can help you determine the plan that is best for you!