Have you had low back pain before? The most common source of pain in patients I see each day for Physical Therapy is low back pain. Low back pain, more than any other type of pain spans a large age range, as well. I get teenagers, new moms, middle-aged men and women, and elderly folks all complaining of the same thing. My job as a Physical Therapist is to help people like YOU prevent this pain.
Before a patient comes to see me, they have to go through a referral process from their doctor and schedule an appointment. This process usually takes anywhere from 2-3 weeks. It’s not a perfect system, but it is what it is. Therefore, it isn’t uncommon for someone to show up for their appointment only to tell me that their low back pain is already gone. Oftentimes, low back pain will go away on its own with time. The problem is that it can frequently recur. So the question isn’t how can we make your pain go away, but how can we stop it from coming back?
Regardless of whether a patient has current pain or not, I hardly ever spend the appointment treating the pain itself – this is just a symptom. No, more important is dealing with the cause of the pain.
When people come to see me for low back pain, we don’t work on how to make the pain go away, we work on how to prevent the pain from coming back in the future.
The same is true for you. You can do things today that will help prevent low back pain tomorrow.
Although there are different sources in your body that can cause low back pain, I’ve found that there are 3 things that everyone needs to work on to prevent the pain in the future.
3 Action Steps to Prevent Low Back Pain
1. Strengthen Your Core
Don’t worry, you don’t need a 6-pack. In fact, I’m not worried about the abdominal muscles you typically think of when you think “abs.” Deep underneath the layers (some deeper than others), you have abdominal muscles that you probably didn’t even know existed. These muscles help give your entire core – including your low back – support and strength.
How do you strengthen these muscles?
Try a plank. Lie face down on an exercise mat. Rest your forearms on the mat underneath your shoulders. Now come up on your toes similar to a push-up position. If this is too difficult, drop your knees down to the ground. Hold your body in a straight line from your head to your knees for as long as you can. Don’t let your low back dip down, keep it straight. This forces your core muscles to stabilize your body.
You can begin to utilize these core muscles in everyday activities by bracing them to give your back more support.
2. Be Active
When you are in pain, what is your initial instinct? Is it to lie on the couch or is it to stay active? A lot of people think that resting and avoiding activity will help them heal. In fact, I’ve found the opposite to be true.
You need to remain active.
Research shows that exercise can reduce your risk of recurring low back pain by between 25-40 percent1.
That being said, if you are in pain – go easy. Walk. Don’t sit or lie down in one spot for more than 30 minutes. Get up and move.
When you don’t have pain, remain active. Static postures contribute to low back pain as much as anything else. If you have a desk job, get up and move every 30 minutes. Make exercise a part of your life. Choose something you enjoy.
3. Perfect Your Lifting Mechanics
This is where a lot of people get into trouble. Have you ever bent down to pick up a sock and felt your low back tense up? I can’t tell you how many times I get this complaint from patients. How can a seemingly insignificant little bend trigger severe pain in the low back.
Here’s the secret: It’s not the weight of the sock, it’s how you bend over to lift it.
Practice squatting and lifting:
- Stand close to the object with your feet hip-width apart.
- Gently brace your abdominals (this is where that core strength comes in handy).
- Bend the knees and hinge forward at your hips as you squat down.
- Maintain a neutral spine (which means keeping your back straight) by keeping your chest and head up.
- Keep the knees behind your toes by sticking your hips behind you as you squat.
- As you lift the object, keep it as close to your body as possible.
- Push from your legs and drive your hips forward as you stand back up.
- Once you have the object in front of you, pivot your feet to where you want to go (never twist as you are lifting).
These principles apply to everything you do that involves bending over: washing dishes, sorting laundry, picking up a baby, or tying your shoelaces. Each of these tasks by themselves don’t seem like much, but the accumulation of doing them with improper mechanics can take its toll.
Whether you are someone who deals with back pain on a regular basis or you’ve never had back pain before, these 3 steps are things you need to be working on regularly to avoid back pain in your future.
Question: What causes you to get pain in your low back? What have you done about it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
- JAMA Internal Medicine, Jan 2016 ↩︎