Low back pain is the leading cause of disability in North America, it’s estimated that approximately 85% of working adults will have an episode of back pain in their lifetime with women being are more likely than men to develop chronic low back pain (lasting more than 3 months). We may think that most back pain results from traumatic accidents such as slip and falls or car accidents but this is far from the truth; most cases of low back pain results from repetitive learned habits that put extra stress on the body. Habits are defined as regular tendencies or practices and when it comes to back pain it the regular occurrence of these habits that become problematic to our health. It’s important to call out these lifestyle habits such as prolonged sitting, smoking, and lack of physical activity in order to decrease their prevalence and lower the chances of developing low back pain.
Sitting is the new smoking! Have you heard this phrase yet? Apart from being at a higher risk for developing low back pain; people who sit for prolonged periods of time are more prone to developing diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer. From desk jobs, to long commutes, to watching TV, sitting for long periods of time makes you more susceptible to an episode of low back pain. First off sitting increases the amount of pressure put on your back compared to standing, secondly the inactivity involved in sitting causes core muscles in place to protect the spine to become weak due to lack of engagement which often leads to back pain.
- Take frequent breaks: Standing up helps to engage your core muscles after sitting. Try to stand up every hour for 5-10 minutes; stretching, going for short walks and core engagement exercises are all great ways to maintain back health. Forgetful? Try setting an alarm every hour or use sticky notes as reminders.
- Back friendly workstations: For many of us sitting may be unavoidable at work, therefore it’s important to have ergonomic workstations that reduce stress on the body. Some simple rules include making sure your feet touch the floor with knees bent at 90 degrees, sit far back into your chair to avoid leaning forward, keep things within your reach such as your phone, mouse, etc. to avoid overreaching. If possible get a standing workstation to cut out sitting all together!
Stress may not be something you relate with back pain, but there are many instances where stress can manifest as physical symptoms. The most proven connection between stress and low back pain is muscle tension, often when under stress we hold extra tension in our muscles, this extra tension over time can lead to pain especially in the low back. Chronic stress can also lead to lack of sleep, poor diet, and inactivity all these things, which also contribute to developing low back pain
- Exercise: Exercise has been proven to be a great way to reduce stress and improve back health, try relaxing activities such as yoga, running or swimming.
- Sleep: Getting enough sleep is crucial to help the body recover from stressful events and lack of sleep increases stress levels, avoid the vicious cycle by getting enough.
- Know your warning signs: If you feel overwhelmed take some time for yourself. Know the signs that come before stress to try and stop it before it happens.
3. Lack of Exercise
Who knew doing nothing could lead to back pain? It’s true; when you fail to maintain regular physical activity you increase core weakness, decrease flexibility and reduce nourishments to your back. Core strengthening helps to increase the strength in the muscles that protect your back, while aerobic exercise such as swimming and running help to increase nourishment to you discs, ligaments and muscles reducing stiffness and tension. The main impact of exercise has on your back is keeping it healthy, strong and flexible.
- Try a variety: choose variety of activities that focus on increasing strength, aerobic fitness, and flexibility.
- Back strength: For prevention and existing issues strengthening the core muscles is always important as they protect the spine
- Consistency: The more consistent exercise is over a lifetime the better the benefits you receive not only concerning your back health but overall health.
Smokers are more likely than non-smokers to suffer from low back pain, for a number of reasons. Smoking leads to increased tissue damage due to lack of blood flow to the spinal area, this lack of circulation also leads to increased degenerative changes and upsets the tissue and bone repairing processes. Cigarette smoking also leads to diminished bone mineral content, it reduces the amount of calcium the body absorbs thereby preventing new bone growth and increasing the risk of osteoporotic fractures. Lastly chronic coughing or the “smokers cough” creates constant jarring in the low back.
- Find your reason: To stay motivated it’s important to find your personal reason for quitting smoking.
- Seek help: Getting help from your family doctor, support groups, or counselors can greatly increase your chances of successfully quitting compared to doing it on your own.
- Support system: Having a support system of friends and family help to keep you encouraged and motivated.
5. Bad Posture
While good posture is great esthetically, it also is great for the health of your back. Failure to maintain good posture can result in extra stress on your spine, strain on your muscles and even compression of your nerves. Over time bad posture can lead to anatomical changes that can be difficult to reverse such as an excessive curve in the low back (swayback). Having good posture means all areas of your body are aligned and balanced, reducing the effects of physical stress on the body.
- Regular posture checks: whenever you find yourself in front of a mirror use this as an opportunity to check your posture, are your shoulders back, chest up, core engaged?
- Recognize the symptoms: Often poor posture leads to discomfort, recognize these symptoms early of muscle fatigue and joint discomfort and make the correct adjustments.
- Exercise: exercise helps to improve posture by targeting muscles and joints that are important to maintaining good posture, focus on strength and flexibility.
- Change positions: Avoid being in one position for too long, if unavoidable be sure to take stretch breaks often.
Prevention is key! Making small changes can lead to big results and greatly decrease your chances of developing back pain.