1. Weak muscles
3. Poor Posture
4. Incorrect lifting
5. Your job
Lower back pain is a condition that will affect almost all of us at some point in our lives. The data suggests that around 80% of people will deal with this distressing condition at least once, with many individuals going on to experience chronic lower back pain. With so many people experiencing the same thing, a question that is often asked is, “What causes lower back pain and how can I prevent it from happening to me?”
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
Thanks to a tendency to Google our symptoms and self diagnose, we often go straight to the most serious signs and symptoms surrounding low back pain, like tumors, hernias, cancer and other similarly scary medical issues. While these are certainly things to be considered and discussed with your doctor, the good news is that most cases of low back pain are mild and generally only last a few weeks. This means that, fortunately, these dreaded diseases are not going to be the underlying cause for most people with lower back pain.
When it comes to low back pain, strangely enough, it is actually some of the simplest things that we do each day that can give us the most grief. This is actually terrific news because, with just a few changes to small things in your daily routine, you can help prevent future flare-ups and make big wins with your back health. Here are our top 5 things that can cause low back pain in everyday life and what you can do to help yourself have a healthier back.
Your core muscles are an important part of back health and they play a crucial role in supporting the back and spine. When most people think about core muscles they generally just think about the abdominal muscles or the “six pack”. Your “core” actually includes a lot more than that. It is made up of the following:
Rectus abdominis (front abdominal muscles)
Internal and External obliques (side abdominal muscles)
Transverse abdominal muscles (a deep muscle that wraps around the front of your body)
Erector spinae ( deep back muscles that are found on each side of the vertebral column and extend along sections of the spine)
Multifidi (small, triangular muscle bundles on either side of the spinal column that make up the second layer of the deep back muscles)
Diaphragm (muscle located below the lungs that help with breathing)
Gluteal muscles (muscles of the buttocks)
Pelvic floor muscles (muscles that span the pelvic floor and support the pelvic organs)
When your core muscles are weak, the structure of your spine is not properly supported. Your body then relies on the wrong structures for support. Ligaments and tissue, spinal bones and discs are relied on, instead of the core muscles, which puts unnecessary strain on these parts of the body and can cause health issues such as disc degeneration and back pain.
Studies have shown that strengthening your core muscles and participating in regular exercise will help to keep your back active and your stabilizing muscles strong and engaged. For more information on this, as well as ideas on what exercises to do to help prevent low back pain you can read our article, Should I exercise with low back pain.
Stress is something that affects all of us on a daily basis. The past year has been one of the most stressful years in recent memory, with the global pandemic, riots and social movements, job losses, economic uncertainty, rising inflation and a housing crisis all in one year! If you haven’t been stressed at some point during 2020/2021 then please share your zen secrets with us!
Not only does stress affect our mental health, but it can have very real effects on our physical health. When our bodies experience stress, hormones called cortisol and adrenaline are released. These hormones can cause constriction in the blood vessels and muscles, reducing the flow of blood and oxygen to these muscles, tendons and ligaments. Biochemical waste products can also build up in the muscles, resulting in muscle tension, spasms and the all-too-familiar back pain flare-ups. People who are prone to depression and anxiety have been shown to be at greater risk of experiencing back pain.
Studies have shown that practices such as mindfulness and deep breathing can have very real benefits in reducing both stress and the increased pain sensations that stress can bring to our bodies. Taking time to breath and relax the muscles can reduce the tension experienced in the muscles, and can also decrease our sensitivity to pain (see our blog on Anxiety And Low Back Pain).
Posture is linked to your core muscle strength and it can make up a huge part of our day. Considering the fact that the average person sits for 6.5 hours every day, if your posture is poor then that can put enormous strain on your back. Slouching or having poor posture sitting (or standing) causes the strain on your back to be incorrectly dispersed. Instead of your strong core muscles supporting your back, tissues and ligaments get involved when they shouldn’t and they can weaken.
When you have good posture, your spine and joints are in good alignment and weight is evenly dispersed across the right parts of your body. While there are products available on the market to help you stabilize your body and correct your posture (back braces and posture trainers) some simple ways that you can improve your posture are:
Picture yourself sitting up straight with a straight line running from the top of your head to the base of your spine (if you are sitting) or to your heels (if you are standing).
Make sure that your feet are placed firmly on the floor and that your arms are parallel to your thighs when you are sitting at your desk.
Use an ergonomic chair when you are sitting to help ensure that your body is properly supported and aligned.
Set a timer to remind yourself to sit up straight every 5 minutes or so, this will help you check your posture.
If you must stand for long periods, place one foot on a low footstool to take some of the load off your lower back. Alternate your feet from time to time to shift the load.
Improper lifting, or carrying something at an incorrect angle, is one of the most common causes of back injuries. People are amazed that a simple incorrect lift can cause so much pain. Everyone thinks they know how to lift properly, just make sure you bend at the knees, right?
Bending at the knees is important, but making sure that you bend at your hips and not at your back is even more important. It is also key to ensure that your chest is facing forward so that your back stays straight. When your chest is forward, your knees will bend automatically which will then engage the muscles of the hips and legs and will make them do the heavy lifting for you, not your back.
Another super dangerous part of lifting is twisting. This causes so many back injuries! So often we hear the words, “I just twisted a little to the side and it threw my back out!”. When you lift heavy items is it so important to keep the shoulders in line with your hips. This will help prevent you from twisting. If you want to change directions, make sure your hips move first and your shoulders will turn at the same time, preventing a back injury.
Low back pain is one of the leading causes of missed work days. Research has found that among working adults, 64% of people with low back pain have missed at least one day of work because of illness or injury. Not every job is going to cause low back pain or exacerbate your condition, but there are many jobs and industries that have higher than average rates of musculo-skeletal injuries. Jobs that involve lots of standing, sitting, heavy lifting include:
Airline pilots/ flight attendants
Janitors/ cleaning staff/housekeeping
IT specialists/ computer programmers
People in the hospitality industry
If you work in an industry or job where you stand or sit for long hours, there are some things that you can do to help prevent low back pain.
Daily stretches to help warm up muscles before your day starts. This can help prevent strain or injury throughout the day.
Making sure you are adequately hydrated throughout the day - dehydration can exacerbate low back pain.
Staying active by taking a short walk during the work day or making sure you exercise at home at least a few times each week.
Using mindfulness, meditation or deep breathing to help manage daily stress and keep your muscles relaxed.
Not all back injuries are traumatic and have an identifiable cause. Most back pain issues are due to the build up of all the little stresses that we place on our bodies each day. Our bodies are amazing machines and can do so much for us. Learning about the little things that we can do on a regular basis to help keep our bodies in top working order is so important. With just a few small adaptations, we can help prevent low back pain flare ups or injuries, ensuring that we don’t have to miss out on fun times with family and friends.