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How to prevent low back pain

Published: 24 May 2017 - Injury Treatment and Prevention

Image of a male with low back pain

Low back pain is a common and limiting problem that can affect your ability go about your normal activities at home, at work, and in your leisure time. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimate that 70-90% of people will suffer for lower back pain at some point in their lives, making it one of the leading causes of pain and disability in Australia.

What is the lower back?

Your lower back is made up of 5 Lumbar vertebrae (bones); discs, which sit between the vertebrae and provide cushioning for the joints; ligaments which help to stabilise the vertebrae; and muscles which control the movement of your back. These structures form a strong and cohesive unit that normally works well, allowing you to go about your normal activities without pain or dysfunction, however sometimes one or all of these structures do not work as they are supposed to. This can cause pain, and stop you from completing your activities as normal.

Why do we injure our lower backs?

The back is made to move, but sometimes due to injuries we can’t move—or even rest—as we would like. There are many different causes for this. Below are some of the main causes of low back pain.

Age-related illness

As we get older, issues like Osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease become more likely. Much like grey hair and wrinkles, these can be a normal part of aging, but unlike grey hair, they can cause stiffness, pain and difficulty with certain movements.

Repetitive strain

Completing the same activities repetitively, particularly activities that involve bending, twisting and lifting, can put stress through the back that it doesn’t get a chance to recover from.

Sudden increase in load

Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re not much of a gym junkie; you do a bit of exercise, but mostly you prefer watching Netflix or spending your time with friends at a bar. If you suddenly decide that this year is your year and try to deadlift 100kg, your back is not going to like it. This might be an exaggeration, but often we can expect our bodies to handle stresses that it’s not adequately prepared for. Your muscles aren’t equipped to cope, and so the stress instead goes through your joints, ligaments and discs, and they complain accordingly.

How can we prevent low back pain?

The good news is that there is something we can do to help! Sometimes back pain can’t be prevented completely but more often than not, there are small changes that you can make to your day to day life and exercises we can prescribe you that will reduce the likelihood of developing low back pain.

Looking at how you work

We spend such a large proportion of our lives at work that if we’re poorly set up there, it can have an impact on every other facet of our lives. Make sure your desk is set up ‘ergonomically’, to put the least amount of pressure on your body. If there’s someone at work who can help you with this pick their brain! If there’s an option for you to use a sit-to-stand desk, this can help give your back a rest from sitting.

Trying to keep moving, or changing up how you move can also be a good way to let your body rest from the task at hand. Set an alarm for yourself to go for a walk, do some stretches or march on the spot every half hour to hour.

If your work is up and about, make sure you’re complying with your workplace’s occupational health and safety guidelines- often they will have information you can access about how to complete your usual tasks in a way that reduces the stress on you and your body.

Looking at how you lift

Lifting, whether it’s lifting your grandchild, your groceries or anything in between, can put a lot of stress on your back if not done well. Make sure that when you’re lifting, your back stays straight and your knees bend so that the muscles in your hips and thighs are doing all the hard work for you.

Let your body relax

Sometimes we become so preoccupied with activating the right muscles at the right times that we forget that they need to rest sometimes too. This is especially true if you’re someone who tends to hold tension in their body. Try some stretches or some meditation to let those muscles let go.

Get moving

It was mentioned earlier that your back was made to move- movement helps to encourage blood flow to the discs cushioning your spine, in turn helping them to stay healthy and nourished. It can also keep the muscles in your back strong and flexible, so that they are in a better position to support you through your day. So whether it’s walking, pilates, basketball or ballet, find an exercise that’s right for you and get moving; exercise is the best medicine.

If you are experiencing back pain, have had it in the past and want to prevent another recurrence or just want more information on what you can do to have a healthy back, book in with one of our highly-trained physiotherapists at Back In Motion for a FREE initial assessment! Your physio will then assess you and discuss all options available to help your needs.  

Author

Anna Sanchez - Physiotherapist at Back In Motion Clayton

References: http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129555788