Low back pain is a common problem about 80 percent of adults will experience in their lifetime. Both men and women experience symptoms of low back pain, with severity ranging from mild and random to painful and constant. Back pain also comes in different forms, with dull and sharp the obvious polar opposites.
Medical professionals classify back pain according to the duration of a patients symptoms. Low back pain can be classified as:
- Acute – Lasting up to four weeks
- Sub-Acute – Lasting between four and twelve weeks
- Chronic – Persists for twelve weeks or more
Symptoms of back pain are among the top causes for patient visits to the doctor’s office in the United States every year. One of the reasons low back pain is so common is its very high rate of recurrence. Half of all patients will experience back pain within one year of recovering from a previous episode1. This makes taking necessary steps to prevent back pain from ever occurring a must.
How to Prevent Back Pain
Exercise: Exercise is one of the most important tools to reduce the risk of low back pain. Studies show that exercise reduces the effects of low back pain and keeps re-occurrences to a minimum.
Exercises which help strengthen core muscles are useful in preventing the onset of back pain. A strong core helps the lower body maintain balance between sitting and standing positions.
Having strong core muscles reduces the stress on the lower body and keeps movement feeling natural. Some core exercises to try include the floor bridge and balancing on a Swiss ball. Other exercises that can help strengthen the core include:
- Yoga: Stretching is well known to help with muscle strength and posture. Ask a doctor today if it is safe to get into yoga, then give it a try! Always remember to stretch before and after exercise.
- Abdominal crunches: Crunches will work ab muscles and help in maintaining a good posture.
- Plank: Many variations exist, including the “modified plank”, “side plank” and the “superman”. For planks it is a good idea to use a timer!
- Sit-ups: Sit-ups vary depending on what someone is comfortable with. People add twists, frog sit-ups and oblique crunches to spice it up.
Here is a great resource from the VA department for visualizing the exercises above.
Education: It is true that exercise by itself can help prevent and reduce the effects of low back pain. However, exercise is most effective when patients with low back problems educate themselves on issues surrounding their particular problem2. Education allows patients to learn new ways to manage back pain, prevent future pain, and know what to expect if low back pain arises again.
Weight management: Weight management is key to preventing back pain. An active lifestyle helps maintain a healthy weight, which translates to less strain on the back. Studies show that the risk of low back pain increases with body mass index (BMI)3. BMI is a number based on a person’s height and weight. The categories of BMI include4:
- Normal weight: BMI less than 25
- Overweight: BMI 25 to 29.9
- Obese: BMI 30 to 35
Following the BMI calculations, a healthy weight would be about 178 lbs for a person who is less than 6’0″ tall. Studies show that people who are overweight or obese can be up to four times as likely to experience low back pain. Obese patients are also at a higher risk for complications after surgery compared to patients with normal weight5.
Diet: Someone living an active lifestyle with a balanced diet will have an easier time strengthening their core muscles than someone who does not. A balanced diet will contain decent amounts of protein and carbohydrates, with lots of fruits, grains, lean meats and vegetables. Some diet plans can decrease risks of cancer, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease. Check out the DASH diet for tips!
Proper posture and shoes: It is important to pay attention to posture, both while sitting and standing. Do not slouch. Sit straight with the back against the chair and feet flat on the surface of the floor. Accessories like back belts and shoe insoles may help, but should not be a permanent fixture unless prescribed by a doctor.
No heavy lifting: If it cannot be avoided, then take care to prevent future problems by bending the knees while keeping a straight back when lifting heavy objects.
Fig. 1: demonstration of safe lifting technique
Vitamins: It is important to take supplements to keep bones strong. This is important for patients of all ages, but even more so for the elderly. Calcium and vitamin D will help maintain bone health and prevent the onset of osteoporosis and fractures which frequently cause low back pain.
In conclusion, it is evident low back pain can cause significant discomfort. However, it is preventable. Committing to a more active lifestyle with exercise, while also getting educated on posture, dieting, and weight management will go a long way in preventing low back pain.
|1.||Carey TS , Garrett JM , Jackman A , Hadler N. Recurrence and care seeking after acute back pain: results of a long-term follow-up study: North Carolina Back Pain Project. Med Care. 1999; 37(2): p. 157-164.|
|2.||Steffens D. , Mahers C. , Pereira L et al.. Prevention of Low Back Pain, A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Int Medicine. 2016; 176(2): p. 199-208.|
|3.||Smuck M , Kao MJ , Brar N , Martinez-Ith A , Choi J , Tomkins-Lane CC. Does physical activity influence the relationship between low back pain and obesity? The Spine J. 2014; 14: p. 209-216.|
|4.||American Obesity Association. What is obesity?. 2002.|
|5.||National Institutes of Health. Understanding adult obesity. 2001.|
|6.||US Department of Health and Human Services. Prevent Back Pain. Healthfinder.gov.|