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  • Writer's pictureJackie

Ward Off Low Back Pain

These 6 Simple Practices Can Prevent Discomfort

At some time or another, just about all of us deal with some form of lower back discomfort. It’s pretty darn common. According to the CDC, in 2018, 28.0% of men and 31.6% of women aged 18 years and older reported lower back pain in the past 3 months. Were you one of them? I sure hope not, but if so, the insights and tips below may help.

Low back pain is tricky. Sometimes it strikes acutely, often related to sudden injury, and sometimes it drags on chronically. Certain factors can put you at risk of developing it. Low back pain usually first arises between the ages of 30-50, often occurs when we’re less physically fit, and can be connected with very strenuous jobs. Genetic factors and smoking can damage tissues and lead to pain in the low back. Even psychological factors like anxiety and depression can intensify our experience of pain, making low back discomfort seem worse. Whatever the case, it’s important to consult your doctor if you’re experiencing serious and/or ongoing pain.

If you have mild discomfort or simply want to ward off another bout of pain, these six simple tips just might serve as the ounce of prevention you need:

Strengthen your core.

You’ve probably heard that this is a good idea, but why is that so? In a Cleveland Clinic interview, physical therapist, Patti Mariano Kopasakis, PT, DPT, SCS, excellently explains that, when our core (which includes muscles of the abdomen and low back as well as hip flexors and gluteal muscles) is weak, then the low back will rely on other non-muscular structures like ligaments, for stability, which may lead to pain. Strengthen the core with exercises such as planks, side planks, bird dogs, dead bugs, bridges, and superman raises.

Stop sitting so much.

In a 2019 study of 64 call-center employees, 75 percent of the participants reported some level of either chronic or acute back pain. It’s not too surprising — Long periods of sitting have long been associated with low back pain. Sitting tightens hip flexors and weakens gluteal muscles, which in turn can cause hip and low back pain. Be sure to get up and move around every 20 minutes or so, even just for a couple of minutes. Even better, do a couple of stretches when you take those mini breaks.

Drop some weight.

Although there is some debate about the link between bodyfat and low back pain, a 2010 review published in the American Journal of Epidemiology clearly concluded that low back pain risk is associated with higher BMI. It's well known that weight loss significantly relieves stress on other joints, including ankles, knees and hips, so it makes sense that the low back could be implicated, too. Crucially, losing belly fat also has a potentially life saving effect, since visceral fat in the abdomen is associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, sleep apnea, premature death from any cause, and high blood pressure.

Foam roll muscles of the hips and upper back but not low back.

According to Kyle Stull, senior master trainer/senior manager of TriggerPoint & author of the Complete Guide to Foam Rolling, “There is really no reason to use a foam roller on the [low] back... it's better to find the root cause of pain. Most people with low back pain are not dealing with specific low back injury, so the low back itself is not to blame.” To reduce tension in the low back, he urges folks to consider foam rolling the muscles of the upper back and hips instead. Personally, I do this regularly and rarely suffer the level of discomfort (in many of my joints!) that I have periodically in the past. If you're interested in pursuing foam rolling properly, I highly recommend Stull's aforementioned book. This quick guide from NASM is also an excellent place to start.

Check your mattress for wear.

For some of us (including yours truly), this can be a miraculous quick fix! When your mattress stops supporting your low back (and other joints), your low back will begin to “grumble” at you. Strangely, like the proverbial frogs who adjust to gradually boiling water, we often don’t realize that our mattress is the culprit behind our pain! I know more than one person who seriously reduced low back discomfort with the purchase of a new mattress.

Carry and lift things properly.

This sounds so incredibly obvious, but in action, we often lift and move heavy items in a manner that puts our backs at risk—especially if we’re in a rush, caught off guard, or distracted. Remember these tips from the Mayo Clinic for proper lifting: move close to an item before attempting to raise it, do not bend at the waist or lock knees, tighten the core and keep a neutral spine, squat or kneel on one knee to lift, and avoid twisting.

Wishing you a strong, healthy, happy back that serves you well every day!

Photo by Miriam Alonso from Pexels


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