Strategies to Improve Low Back Pain
How to Prevent and Relieve Low Back Pain
At some point, most individuals will suffer with an instance of low back pain. Low back pain can be acute, recurring, or chronic in nature depending on how long you have been dealing with the pain.
What Causes Back Pain
Back pain can be caused by an episodic event, in which you lift something poorly, fall or experience some other sort of traumatic injury to the back. Repetitive low back pain is related to overuse injuries, including strains related to excessive bending, lifting and twisting. Most of the time, however, as you age, you experience a gradual onset of back pain symptoms. This is often related to dysfunction at the vertebral level and rubbing of nervous tissue. Anatomical changes can be related to degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, fracture, osteoporosis, arthritis, disc herniation or even tumor.
Most of the time, low back pain is not a medical emergency, but if you ever experience this pain with loss of bowel or bladder function or inability to move your legs, then you should go to the emergency department immediately.
These symptoms of paralysis are a medical emergency.
Find the Source of the Pain
In order to determine the best strategy for dealing with your back pain, it is best to have a thorough examination by an orthopedic physician and physical therapist. You may undergo imaging studies, blood work and specialized mechanical testing to determine how positioning affects your back symptoms. Many back conditions follow a specific pattern of movement. For example: does your back pain feel worse when you are standing or sitting? Do you get relief by bending forward or stretching backwards? Answers to these questions help your healthcare provider determine the appropriate course of action.
You can do a little assessment on yourself by recording your pain symptoms. Write down when you are feeling your back pain. What activity are you performing? What activity or movement helps the pain go away? When are you without pain? If you find that your pain is resolved with sitting, reaching forward and stretching, then you may have pain related to arthritis in your back, or spinal stenosis. Next time you have back pain, try sitting and stretching forward to touch your hands to the floor. If you find that your pain is resolved with standing and walking, then it may be related to a disc problem. Next time you have pain, try standing and arching backwards or lying on your stomach. This position should give you relief.
Of course, no self-assessment will determine exactly what is going on. It is important to see a healthcare provider if you are having symptoms of pain for more than two weeks, in order to determine proper treatment and rule out any serious injury.
Stretching and Flexibility
For mild instances of low back pain, regular stretching and strengthening exercises can mediate and even prevent further instances of pain. Stretching exercises should focus on the flexibility of the muscles of your leg as well as the flexibility of your low back musculature. Strengthening of your abdominal and back muscles will provide the support to your spine to prevent further injury. In addition, strong core muscles will allow for appropriate, upright posture. Avoid wearing a back brace, as the brace will impede your own muscle function. By strengthening your abdominal and back muscles, you will create your own anatomical back brace. Avoid slouching and try to maintain upright head and trunk position.
It is important to practice proper body mechanics, especially while lifting or moving heavy objects.
Poor body mechanics while lifting will lead to potential back injury and pain. When lifting, keep the load close to your body. Bend at your knees and lift using your leg strength. For heavier items, be sure to ask for help or use a device such as a dolly or wheelbarrow. It is important to avoid forward bending, lifting and twisting (remember “no BLT”) if you have low back pain, to avoid further injury and pain.
Managing Your Back Pain
If you are experiencing low back pain when getting in and out of bed, you can utilize the log roll technique. This method allows you to move in bed without excessive twisting at your spine. When lying on your back, roll to your side first. From side lying, push yourself upright to sitting on the edge of the bed. This should be done in one smooth movement, like a pendulum. To get into bed, sit on the edge of the bed and lower yourself into the side lying position. Then, roll onto your back. By getting in and out of bed in this manner, you will reduce strain and stress to the spine. If you have trouble sleeping at night, lie on your back and try placing a pillow under your knees, so the knees are bent. Or, try sleeping on your side with your knees slightly bent. Place a pillow between your knees for comfort. Both of these positions will help to align your spine in a neutral position.
If your low back pain is interfering with your daily tasks and preventing you from participating in your recreational activities, seek medical attention from your doctor or physical therapist. Many symptoms of back pain can be alleviated without surgical intervention. Contrary to common belief, bed rest is rarely advised for low back pain. Staying active and taking a gentle walk are better strategies to improve symptoms. You may find that going for a ten minute walk will help to alleviate discomfort and feelings of stiffness.
Exercises to Try
Try some of these simple exercises to improve your back strength and mobility:
- Rows: Sit or stand with elbows bent at your sides. Bring elbows back, as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Repeat 15 times. This exercise strengthens the muscles of your back, allowing for better posture.
- Hamstring Stretch: Sit at edge of chair with leg extended and heel on the floor, knee straight. Gently hinge forward at your trunk until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for 30 seconds, and perform 3 times on each leg. This exercise improves your leg flexibility, reducing pull on the back.
- Bridges: Lay on your back with knees bent. Contract your abdominals and buttocks muscles as you lift your buttocks off the floor/bed and form a bridge. Return to start. Repeat 15 times. This exercise strengthens the muscles of your buttocks and abdominals, creating better support for your spine.
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