Lower back pain is one of the most common muscular injuries and almost everyone experiences it at some point in their life.
The lower back (lumbar region of the spine) consists of interconnecting bones, joints, nerves, ligaments, and muscles that work together to support the weight of the upper body while providing mobility for movements such as bending and twisting. The nerves that pass through the lower back supply the sensation and power to muscles of the pelvis, legs, and feet. Considering how much is occurring in this area it is easy to see how an injury to any of these moving parts can really affect overall function.
The are many causes for lower back pain including being overweight, lack of exercise, pregnancy, stress, and smoking. However, the main cause is poor posture and lifting technique.
When lifting items with poor posture and technique it is easy to overload and overstretch the back. This overload can cause damage to the muscles, ligaments, or the discs, which initiates the bodies inflammatory response. The symptoms felt can range from mild to severely debilitating depending on the underlying cause of the pain. Some symptoms experienced include pain that is dull or achy; stinging, burning pain that moves from the low back to the backs of the thighs, and sometimes to the feet (often caused by sciatica); muscle spasms and tightness in the low back, pelvis, or hips; pain that is worsened after prolonged sitting or standing; and difficulty standing up straight, walking, or going from standing to sitting.
Lower back pain can be acute where there is a sudden onset and only lasts a few days or weeks. The acute pain is the body’s normal response to injury or tissue damage. As the body heals the pain will gradually subside. Subacute low back pain is typically a muscle strain or joint pain caused by a mechanical injury and can last between six weeks and three months. Chronic low back pain lasts over three months, is severe, does not respond to initial treatments, and requires a thorough medical assessment to determine the cause.
No matter the cause initial treatment is always the same. Avoid HARM (heat, alcohol, re-injury, and massage) as this increases inflammation and swelling to the area which slows down the body’s healing process. Instead treat with pain relief medications, ice packs, and modify activities to reduce the stress to the lower back. Continue to participate in low-intensity activities and avoid bed rest, except during times of severe pain. Over time, increase the intensity and duration of the activity until back to your normal activities. Although it can be challenging to stay active while experiencing pain, being active can improve lower back pain over the long-term.
Having a regular core exercise routine can help prevent or manage your lower back pain. Strengthening the core muscles relieves back pain and can reduce your risk of further injury. It is important to then stretch the muscles to restore range of motion and prevent injury. Stretching after strengthening also helps to reduce muscle soreness and increase flexibility of the muscles. My favourite exercise program to provide individuals who are suffering from mechanical back pain is the Spine Conditioning Program (https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/recovery/spine-conditioning-program/spine-conditioning-program-pdf/). This program outlines how to stretch and strengthen the core muscles. I recommend for anyone looking to prevent lower back pain to incorporate these exercises 2-3 times per week into your usual exercise routine. If you are currently experiencing lower back pain, speak with your health care provider or kinesiologist before starting this exercise program.
For more information about any of the free services offered by the Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team, visit www.mmfht.ca or call the Drayton/Palmerston office at 519-638-2110 or Clifford office at 519-327-4777. Check out Facebook (Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team) for healthy living tips and information on upcoming programs and events in the area!
A Visual Guide to Low Back Pain. (n.d.). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/ss/slideshow-low-back-pain-overview
Exercising with Lower Back pain. Exercise is Medicine. https://www.exerciseismedicine.org/lower-back-pain/
Peloza, J., MD. (n.d.). Lower Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Spine-health. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/lower-back-pain/lower-back-pain-symptoms-diagnosis-and-treatment
Michelle Jacobs is a Registered Kinesiologist and CSEP Clinical Exercise Psychologist with the Kincardine Family Health Team