If you’re suffering from lower back pain, you’re in good company. At some point in time, almost everyone on the planet experiences back pain severe enough to interfere with work or daily activities. Back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability in the U.S., as well as a leading cause of missing work. We spend more than $50 billion every year on treatment of low back pain and after headaches, it’s our most common neurological complaint.
What causes back pain? As we age, we lose bone strength as well as muscle elasticity and tone, and our spinal discs become hardened and provide less cushioning for our vertebrae. It’s easier to sprain or strain the muscles and ligaments in our back through improper lifting, over exertion or even just poor posture.
Poor or non-existent exercise regimens over time may cause muscle imbalances between our abdominal and back muscles, destabilizing our core and leading to poor posture and misalignment of the spine. Misaligned vertebrae can cause spinal discs to rupture or bulge, putting pressure on one of more than 50 nerve roots in our spinal cord, causing intense pain and even tingling and numbness in our extremities.
Exercise for Cure and Prevention
For most types of lower back pain, exercise is the number one way to speed recovery and help strengthen back and abdominal muscles. Your physical therapist can provide a list of gentle exercises to help keep your muscles moving and thereby hasten the healing process. Pilates-based core-centric rehabilitation exercises also help to improve coordination, improve posture and muscle balance, while yoga is an excellent way to gently stretch back muscles and ease pain.
For disc problems, spinal manipulation performed by a chiropractor using leverage and gentle, hands-on adjustment is effective to realign spinal vertebrae, reducing pressure on nerve roots to ease pain and restore mobility. Many people with chronic back pain regularly see a chiropractor for these adjustments.
Recurring back pain is often preventable by maintaining and building core muscle strength and stability through regular exercise. Your physical therapist can show you exercises that you can do at home to help you to develop a strong, healthy core that will support your spine for better back health, as well as develop and maintain flexibility and correct posture.
Postural re-education programs are available for those with chronically poor posture. Although these programs primarily focus on people with “forward head posture,” another widespread problem that leads to development of a pronounced hunch in many elderly persons, the training is nonetheless useful for correcting all sorts of posture problems.
Many holistic exercise programs, such as Pilates and yoga provide well balanced total body workouts that concentrate on posture, strength, flexibility, balance and alignment, and are superb for helping to maintain a strong, flexible physique. When was the last time you saw a yogi with poor posture?
When in Doubt, Ask for Help
Finally, practicing proper lifting techniques (lift with your legs, not your back!) and getting assistance rather than attempting to lift something that is too heavy or awkward to manage alone is critical to avoiding back strain and spinal misalignment. As was mentioned earlier, back injuries are the number one cause of work-related disability, among men and women of all ages.
It’s important to keep in mind that as we age our muscles lose elasticity and are more prone to sprain and strain. Respect your body and respect your limitations. Your physical therapist knows better than anyone; it only takes a few minutes to get some help, but it may take months or even years to get over a back injury!