Eating healthy foods/ anti inflammatory
Getting good sleep
Making time to relax
Check your posture
Drink plenty of fluids
Stay connected with friends
Get a pet
How Do I Prevent Low Back Pain?
When it comes to low back pain it can be, well, a pain. No one wants to spend countless hours and dollars on doctors appointments and MRIs only to be told that there is not much that they can do about it, other than wait and see. And yet that is exactly what happens in around 90% of low back pain cases - it goes away on its own after about 6 weeks. But what about the 10% of people whose low back pain doesn’t go away by itself?
How Do I Know What Is Causing My Low Back Pain?
Generally diagnostic imaging is only indicated for low back pain if there are red flags present that might indicate a more serious underlying condition. Studies have shown that routine imaging without a specific reason, is not only unhelpful for making a diagnosis, but it can actually cause harm with patients being exposed to unnecessary radiation. There is also the fact of unnecessary costs associated with the imaging, which is not always covered by insurance and can be very expensive, especially if there isn’t a clear benefit for doing it.
So, how do you know what is causing your back pain, and how can you go about treating it?
How To Prevent Low Back Pain
International guidelines have been compiled by different medical task forces around the world and they all say pretty much the same thing: staying active, reducing stress and engaging in low impact activities can make a big difference to your recovery time, and help to prevent future relapses.
With that in mind, we have put together a list of our top 9 things that you can do at home to help prevent low back issues from occurring (80% of us will experience low back pain at some point in our lives).
If you are already struggling with low back pain, these tips can help to speed up your recovery. These habits are easy and affordable, and you will be surprised at just how effective they are in dealing with low back pain.
Spending just a few minutes of your day doing some specific stretches for low back pain, can make a big difference to your life. When we spend some time in the mornings (or the evenings) stretching out our bodies and our backs, we allow more blood to flow to that area, improve circulation, and reduce tension in the muscles.
When our muscles are warm and relaxed we have less chance of injuring them and straining them. They are more supple and flexible and that helps us to perform our daily activities with increased ease.
Stretches like the Cat Cow Stretch, or the Bird Dog are relatively simple stretches that you can do almost anywhere. And the benefits are huge! Regular stretching also helps to reduce feelings of pain that often accompany stiff and tight muscles.
For some fun and easy stretches, check out our blog on the Top 5 Stretches For Low Back Pain.
2. Staying Active
Experts around the globe agree that the old adage of resting for low back pain is no longer the right thing to do. The science shows that staying active after a low back injury actually helps the recovery process.
Lying down for longer than a day or so really isn’t helpful for low back pain, and can even sometimes make things worse. The sooner you start moving again (gently, of course - no iron man competitions at first!) the quicker you are likely to improve.
Low impact exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga and tai chi are all excellent ways to get your body moving with little risk of injuring your back. Research has shown that by strengthening the muscles that support your spine you can help to reduce low back pain injuries.
Exercise also releases endorphins which can help to manage and pain symptoms you may be experiencing - and they make you feel happier about life in general! See our blog on the Best Exercises For Low Back Pain.
3. Eat Healthy Foods
Did you know that your diet can have a big impact on your low back pain? Certain foods can be classified as either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Inflammatory foods are often the high-sugar, low nutrient processed foods that we know we shouldn’t really be eating a lot of anyway. These foods can trigger inflammatory processes in the body, leading to increased muscle pain and low back pain flare ups.
The good news is that the anti inflammatory foods are not boring or tasteless. Delicious dishes such as berries and buddha bowls, salmon and spinach, cantaloupe and dark chocolate are all high in anti-inflammatories.
With just a little preparation and imagination, eating a rainbow of food can help to reduce the inflammation in the muscles, and can also lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and auto-immune diseases.
4. Get Good Sleep
Aaaah! If only it were that simple, right? Chronic pain can definitely put a damper on your sleep schedule and the irony is that lack of sleep then leads to increased feelings of pain! According to the National Sleep Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans suffer from chronic pain. 1 in 4 of these patients also has a sleep disorder.
Getting enough sleep is essential in order for our bodies to heal and restore themselves. Sleep acts like a dishwasher, cleaning our brain and cells at night so that healing and repair can take place without us even knowing it!
Sleep can help us deal with the stresses that we face during the day and can reduce the inflammation that has built up in our bodies. A sleep deficit can do the opposite - leading to a range of health issues, both physical and mental.
There are a few tips and tricks to getting some decent down time at night. Practicing good sleep hygiene is one easy place to start. Making sure you turn off your phone/screens at least an hour or two before bed, ensuring that the room is cool enough to encourage good sleep, and not drinking alcohol too close to bedtime are some of the easy things to do each day.
You can also find special pillows and mattresses that will support your back and neck while you sleep. For more ways to improve your sleep, check out our blog on How To Sleep With Lower Back Pain.
Yup. This one too. Don’t stress, they say. Chill out. If only we could all be as cool as a cucumber during rush hour traffic or stay as zen as a Buddhist monk when our to-do list gets as long as a CVS receipt.
Increased stress can cause your muscles to tighten and contract which can make them less flexible and more prone to injury. Stress can also lead to heightened sensations of pain in our bodies. One experiment showed that people who had to do a complex math problem experienced higher levels of pain than those who did not have to do the math problem.
Meditation and mindfulness are practices that help us to focus our minds and attention on only the moments at hand and on the things that we can actively control. Studies have shown that meditation can be an effective treatment for low back pain, by moving the focus off your pain and onto something else. Meditation can also help to relax the body and the mind.
Many smart watches now have breathing features that help you to focus on deep breathing for a minute or two, helping to slow down your heart rate and relax your body.
There are also loads of free mindfulness and meditation videos available on YouTube for free and they can range from 1 minute to hour long meditation sessions for the more experienced meditators among us. For more details on how stress can affect your low back pain, check out our blog on that topic.
6. Good Posture
While slouching down at your desk may help you keep a low profile at work and avoid the creepy glances of that one co-worker we all try to avoid, it isn’t much help for preventing low back pain.
Bad posture can actually contribute to low back pain, regardless of whether you are sitting poorly or slouching while you stand. Even if your posture isn’t the original cause of your low back pain, it certainly isn’t helping it and it can actually make it worse.
To avoid poor posture there are a few things you can do. Making sure that you are ergonomically aligned at your desk, with your feet firmly on the floor and your arms parallel to your thighs is a good place to start.
By engaging your core muscles, you support your spine, instead of putting pressure on pressure on your spine or straining the wrong muscles with the wrong posture. A supportive and ergonomically designed chair is also a very helpful tool in preventing poor posture.
So here’s a fun fact you might not know: dehydration can actually make you shorter! Crazy, but true! The discs between the vertebrae in our spine are full of liquid that helps to keep them sturdy and flexible.
As we get older, our discs naturally start to lose liquid. They also lose some of the liquid throughout the day and by evening, if we haven’t hydrated enough, our discs become more compressed, leading to a loss of height by up to an inch or so.
But vanity aside, it is really important to replace the liquid in your spinal discs to help keep them from drying out too much (which is also a common occurrence in degenerative disc disease) and to keep them firm but flexible, allowing for greater mobility and less chance of pulling a muscle that shouldn’t get pulled.
Having those cushiony discs reduce friction between the vertebrae is key to preventing low back pain. Read more about this in our blog on Dehydration And Low Back Pain
According to the latest research, friendship is not only good for making sure you have people who actually show up for you at big events, but it can actually have positive effects on your health.
While it has been known for some time that friends can help decrease your risk for heart disease, scientists have now discovered that friends can help your pain hurt less!
How is all of this possible? Through the release of endorphins! It turns out that working out isn’t the only way to trigger the release of these amazing hormones. The Brain Opioid Theory Of Social Attachment believes that our bodies reward us for good social interactions (important back in the days when we had to hunt and gather food in groups).
A study done on 100 people found that those individuals with a larger number of friends had a higher pain tolerance and a larger number of endorphins. It is important to note that those friendships were meaningful ones, where they contacted their friends at least once a month. So don’t think you can just add a bunch of people on Instagram and have it count ;)
Last, but certainly not least, we come to our furry friends. While not everyone can own a pet, whether it is due to a hectic traveling schedule, lack of space, or even allergies, the research has shown that pet ownership can make a big difference to your physical and mental well-being.
Not only can our furever friends help to reduce our feelings of stress, lower our blood pressure and force us to get off the couch and take them for a walk, a new study from the University of Michigan has shown that pets can also help us deal with pain.
The study, published in 2019, looked at more than 2000 adults, ages 50-80, with half of the people studied owning a pet. The study participants said that their pets helped to take their mind off their pain and helped them to stick to a routine. Pets can also increase our social interactions with others and help to reduce incidences of depression.
If you want to reap the benefits of having a four-legged friend, don’t worry if you can’t own one yourself. Many shelters and non-profits have programs for volunteers to come in and help with the animals.
Whether it is reading to kittens or helping to play with puppies, check with your local animal shelter to see if they have some opportunities for you to get in and play with some of these adorable animals. You will both get the benefits!
While the odds are not in our favor of getting through life without experiencing an episode of low back pain for ourselves, by doing these simple things each day, you could potentially find yourself beating those odds. A little prevention can go a long way in staying happy, healthy and mobile.