About 4 million or 1 out of 6 Australians have low back pain. It is also ranked as the largest contributor to disability worldwide. Low back pain is so prevalent that most times, we ignore its sudden onset and turn to medications for quick relief. But unbeknownst to many, low back pain, if ignored long enough, can be a debilitating, life-altering condition. So here, we will give you the complete lowdown on what you truly need to know about low back pain.
What is Low Back Pain?
Low back pain or LBP (also referred to as lower back pain by some) is a commonly experienced pain or discomfort in the lumbar region of the body, behind your tummy from the rib cage to the pelvis. Non-specific low back pain, classified as such because it is not clear what is causing the pain, is so common that nearly everyone will endure some form of low back pain during their lifetime. Typically, low back pain goes away on its own. However, it is still better to be informed about this common ailment, so you’ll better understand and know how to prevent it.
Low back pain usually manifests during the teen years and pops its ugly head on and off throughout adulthood. In 2020, over half a billion people globally were affected by low back pain and these cases are projected to reach 843 million by 2050, largely due to ageing and population growth.
“As Exercise Physiologists, there sometimes isn’t a day that goes by where we haven’t seen at least one patient with a low back pain complaint. Whether it is non-specific low-back pain, a chronic injury leading to back pain, or rehabilitation following surgery, we focus on improving mobility to improve functioning on a daily basis,” said Dr. Rachelle Sultana, Healthstin’s Senior Exercise Physiologist, whose expertise includes the treatment and management of musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
While musculoskeletal conditions are not directly correlated to workplace conditions, it is a different matter when it comes to low back pain. Often, low back pain is caused by conditions and activities we do in our workplaces. But since it is not immediately life-threatening, it is relegated to the category of ‘lifestyle disease’. Hence, low back pain does not get the support and attention it deserves.
Job hazards – 37% of low back pain worldwide can be attributed to occupational risk factors. It is easy to assume that jobs that require manual labour, heavy lifting, or other physically demanding tasks are the ones where workers are most prone to low back pain. However, studies now show that LBP has crept into other non-physically demanding industries as well. Here are some common and not-so-common work functions that could cause low-back pain:
• Lifting (movers, construction workers, airport baggage personnel, and warehouse workers)
• Highly physical jobs (construction workers, firefighters, and police
• Work that exposes the body to vibrations (airline pilots, flight
attendants, bus and cab taxi drivers)
• Work that entails prolonged periods of bending (surgeons, farmers,
carpet installers/cleaners, mechanics, and nurses)
• Prolonged seated or sedentary jobs (office workers, contact centre agents, and telemarketers)
Home life – If you don’t see yourself doing the work of any of the above, you’re still not in the clear. You may be a stay-at-home mum or dad but the mere act of reaching for a jar that’s been pushed way back in the cupboard could spark low back pain. In fact, the simple motion of twisting, bending forward, or bending to the side of the trunk can cause the onset of acute low back pain.
Falling – Another major cause of low back pain is falls, which are more commonly seen in older people due to poor balance or imbalance during movement. This type of pain is less easy to ignore as it may recur over time due to damage to the musculoskeletal system, making it chronic low back pain.
Remote work – A considerable percentage of our workforce is working from home. While safety and convenience are significant considerations in this setup, it is not without its inherent dangers. For one, if your workstation at home is not ergonomically sufficient, does not offer lumbar support, or if the height of your table in relation to your work chair is poorly matched, then you could be at risk of injuring your back. Furthermore, the prolonged periods that you spend in front of a computer while not observing good posture is enough to increase your risk of LBP.
How to tell if you have low back pain?
If you have any of the following, you may be suffering from non-specific low back pain:
• Dull aching in the lower portion of your back (just above your pants line)
• Stinging, burning pain in the lower back area that radiates to your buttocks or even down your legs (sciatica in medical jargon)
• Sudden numbness or a tingling sensation after a movement
• Muscle spasms or tightness in the lumbar region
• Pain that intensifies after a prolonged period of being seated or standing
• Difficulty and pain when attempting to stand or sit, or sometimes even rolling over in bed
6 Common Low Back Pain Myths
Before we get into the exercises, let us clear the air on some low back pain myths you might have heard of:
- Bed rest is the recommended cure for Low Back Pain – In some cases, this would seem appropriate, especially for temporary back pain, as it reduces the pressure on the discs and other related structures in the spine. However, staying immobilized in bed for too long could have adverse effects such as blood clots in the legs, muscle atrophy, and even muscle splinting, a condition where muscles become extremely tight and contracted.
- Terrible back pain can lead to paralysis– Let’s say you’re playing basketball or reaching for a spool of yarn that’s rolled onto the floor. You hyperextend and then, shooting pain hits you in the back, and you feel the wind’s been knocked out of you – that could be low back pain. And no, it won’t necessarily lead to paralysis. Very rare cases have low back pain led to paralysis, and those were in conjunction with more severe conditions such as spine tumours, spinal infections, and unstable spine fractures.
- The amount of Low Back Pain is directly linked to the severity of the damage — Remember this: acute back pain can be related to the severity of the injury. If it’s longer than six weeks, it would be considered chronic back pain and may not be connected to the amount of damage.
- My Parents had LBP – That’s why I have it, too! – Here’s the long and short of it: it is not necessarily hereditary. However, poor lifestyle habits may be acquired. If you grew up in a sedentary household, chances are you live a sedentary life now that you’re an adult.
- Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs if there’s LBP – While this is a quick-fix solution, it does not mean it is the solution to reduce the onset of or cure LBP. For one, you could build a dependence on NSAIDs if you take one every time you feel pain. For another, it can adversely affect your cardiovascular health due to the potential side effects of this medication.
- Get surgery – Let us be quite honest about surgery. In some cases, going under the knife is a must if the condition or damage to the general back area warrants it. But for back pain and low back pain, it may not be necessary. In the US alone, more than 1 million spinal surgeries are performed every year. About a quarter of these are spinal fusions that cost upwards of US $60,000 per procedure. Unfortunately, some do not have the success rate that is expected and may require further procedure. In the meantime, patients are left in pain, unable to work, and can become dependent on NSAIDS.
7 Exercises on how to help treat your low back pain
Now for the fun part! We’ve put together the top 7 exercises that Healthstin’s highly qualified exercise physiologists recommend to their patients suffering from low back pain. These mobility exercises will not remove the low back pain immediately. Instead, they will help support the spine better, reducing the loading on the intricate muscles of the back to help avoid the onset of low back pain.
1. Cat and Dog Stretch
• Start this exercise on all fours.
• First, arch your back upwards and drop your chin.
• Next, drop your core (stomach) and lift your head, tilting your pelvis as you do so. Do not over-exert.
• Repeat 10-15 times.
2. Child’s Pose
• Sit on your heels with arms stretched out forwards on the ground, with your head down.
• Slowly work your hands forward, stretching as far as you can.
• Inhale and exhale as you do this.
• Repeat 5-10 times without overexerting.
3. Bottom to Heel Stretch
• Kneel on all fours with your knees directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders.
• Keep your back and neck straight without locking your elbows. Slowly sit, moving your buttocks towards your heel until they rest on your heels.
• Hold this stretch for 10-15 seconds, inhaling and exhaling slowly as you stretch.
4. Lying Knee Hug
• Lie flat on your back.
• Lift your shoulder blades gently off the ground, clasp your hands around your right knee, and slowly pull them towards your chest.
• Release gently and do the same for the other leg.
• Repeat 10 times.
5. Bird dog
• Kneel on all fours. Your hands should be squarely under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips.
• Stretch your left leg and right arm. Keep them as straight as possible, lining up with your back.
• Hold this pose for 3 to 5 seconds.
• Repeat on the other side.
6. Plank and feet
• Assume a push-up position, arms extended.
• Lift the right foot upwards a few inches higher than the left foot and bring it back down.
• Do the same on the other side.
• Keep your back straight while doing this 10 times on each side.
7. The Bridge
• Lie on your back with your knees raised while keeping your feet flat on the floor.
• Then lift your hips upwards while tilting your pelvis as you go.
• When your body and legs are aligned in a straight line, hold the pose for 5 seconds.
• Rest for 30-60 seconds and repeat.
• Do 5 sets of this in the beginning.
If done regularly, these exercises can help strengthen the low back itself and the surrounding structures of the lower back.
Get professional advice to get your back on track
Low back pain may have been around since man stood upright and bent back down to till the land and do various other types of jobs. Numerous gadgets and devices have also been invented to help alleviate the pain that LBP brings. However, you don’t need to look outside your body to give yourself the relief you need. With some helpful advice and proven exercises, you can strengthen and improve the health of your lower back.
Should you require professional help for your low back pain, we highly recommend seeing one of our Accredited Exercise Physiologists (EP) here at Healthstin Clinic in Melton or at any of our other Allied Health Clinic locations. Your EP can assess the nature of your low back pain and give you the right recommendations with regards to exercise plans, remedial massage services, and safe and effective lower back pain treatments.