Thursday, September 21, 2017

Key Risk Factors for Low Back Pain

Suffering from chronic low back pain? Looking to prevent old back pain from returning? Turns out a handful of activities you do and don’t do could be putting you at risk.

Low back pain is essentially any ache or soreness targeted to the lumbar spine region of the back where the spine is curved inwards toward the abdomen. The comprehensive system of musculoskeletal components that make up the lumbar spine area include bones, muscles, tendons, nerve roots, spinal discs, and joints. Any of these can potentially be involved in injury or strain.

Pain typically results from inflammation of muscles, tendons, and joints which puts pressure on vulnerable nerve endings. Additionally, sometimes the spongy pads (discs) that sit between each of the vertebrae and serve as shock absorbers degenerate or herniate, which can also cause moderate to severe pain.

So what are you doing that is putting you at risk for low back pain?

Sedentary Lifestyle
You may have heard the new saying “sitting is the new smoking” which refers to the health dangers associated with prolonged sitting. A new study from the Annals of Internal Medicine has found in the most serious degree that prolonged sitting, 12+ hours a day, especially for folks spending 60 to 90 minutes sitting at one time, can increase your risk of early death. Back pain from sitting might not seem as grave as those findings, however, it could be a more prevalent reality in your life.

When you spend significant amounts of time sitting down, you place up to 90% more pressure on the spine than you do when you’re standing. A hunched, rounded back can lead to muscle tension, pelvic imbalance, and constant strain in muscles and other connective tissues coming off the spine. Experts recommend never going more than 30 minutes sitting without standing up to stretch and briefly walk around.

Overweight / Obese
An astonishing 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. is obese according to In addition to generating chronic low back pain, being overweight or obese increases risk for developing debilitating conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and dementia. There are a handful of indirect ways obesity can cause low back pain including promoting inactivity and altering center of gravity.

When you carry extra weight, especially around the abdomen/midsection of the body, your center of gravity is actually pulled forward. This can impact the way you sit, stand, and walk, causing you to pull forward than you normally should and causing your spine and back muscles to work harder to keep you supported and the aligned. Inactivity in the form of avoiding exercise also contributes to low back pain by preventing tense muscles and stiff joints from becoming stretched and lubricated, which allows for more circulation and less inflammation.

Physical Labor Job
One of the top causes of acute low back pain would have to be strain and injury from physical labor jobs which either require heavy lifting or repeated movements involving the back. Good examples include baggage handling jobs at airports, working in a warehouse, nursing involving lifting patients, or even hauling a growing baby and diaper bag daily like many new moms do.

The continuous bending, arching, twisting of the back combined with pulling, pushing, and lifting of heavy work pulls on crucial muscles in the back causing them to become inflamed, tense, and stiff. In addition to pain, you might experience spasms and limited range of motion. Experts recommend people in these fields avoid lifting more than 50 pounds at a time, wear proper fitting and supportive shoes, consider wearing an orthotic aid like a back brace, do gentle spinal stretches to lengthen and reinforce the spine, and always use help (from others or equipment) when possible.

Poor Posture Habits
Say you don’t have a job that requires awkward body positions or heavy lifting, and that you don’t spend most of the day sitting, could you still be doing something that is causing your back pain? Absolutely. Poor posture habits, either with sitting or standing are possibly the biggest culprit when it comes to back pain. Everything from slouching and slumping when sitting, to crossing your legs, leaning on one leg when standing, and craning your neck and head past your shoulders when staring down at a device like your laptop or smartphone.

The more work your back muscles have to do to keep your spine straight, aligned, and supported, the more inflamed and strained they become. Don’t fret though, there are myriad ways you can address bad posture and reverse those dangerous habits. Fortify the back with exercises that gently stretch back muscles and strengthen your core. Use ergonomic cushions like a lumbar support pillow for the car or desk chair. Sit on a stability ball when working at a desk instead of in a chair, or invest in a standing desk. There are even smartphone apps you can download like Perfect Posture Workout (iOS) and Perfect Posture (Android) that alert you when you need to correct your posture.

This is a guest blog post.

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