When it comes to low back pain it seems like everyone has an opinion on how you should fix it. Use this. Wear that. Roll on this. Sleep on that.
With more than 80% of Americans suffering with low back pain at some point in their lives, and with the intense pain that often accompanies the condition, it is no wonder that people will often try anything to feel better.
Failed Back Surgery
It is estimated that people spend over $380 billion on back pain solutions but many of these treatments don’t work. Failed Back Surgery Syndrome is “chronic pain in the lower back and/or legs that persists or recurs following anatomically successful spinal surgery”. Failed back surgery costs can range from $18,195 to $26,170 per patient.
So, if gadgets and surgery don’t work for low back pain, what does work for low back pain? Interestingly enough, the solution may be simpler than you think and cost a lot less than expected.
Exercise For Low Back Pain
For many years bed rest was prescribed for people suffering from low back pain. But more recently studies have found that staying in bed for a prolonged period can actually increase pain by making your muscles stiffer and less flexible.
Data has found that for every day you spend in bed you can lose 1% of your muscle! Getting moving is key. The data has found that returning to physical activity is preferable to staying in bed and it can actually help speed up your recovery.
The Dangers Of Sitting
And it’s not just bed rest. Prolonged sitting can also lead to lower mobility and weaker muscles. In 2019 Forbes Magazine wrote an article called ‘Americans Sit More Than Any Other Time In History And It’s Literally Killing Us’. Authors Nicole Williams and Regina Roberts wrote that ‘the normal office worker sits a shocking 15 hours every single day’.
Roberts added that ‘that the average American adult sits more than at any other time in history. Sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950 according to the American Heart Association. And, Johns Hopkins contends that, “Physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of the U.S. workforce, down from roughly half of jobs in 1960.”
How does all this sitting affect our health?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “sitting time and activity levels found in those who sat for more than 8 hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.”
The experts at UCLA Health have found that when we sit for long periods of time, increased stress is placed on the back, neck, arms, and legs, all of which can put tremendous pressure on our spinal discs and back muscles, thereby causing low back pain. Throw some poor posture into the mix and we have perfect conditions for back pain.
Researchers found that “People who spend more than 7 hours a day sitting also have lower mobility in their spine, which can lead to discomfort and weakness in the lower back muscles”.
The Top Hack For Fixing Low Back Pain
Exercise is often prescribed for patients with low back pain with research providing an overwhelming body of evidence to support this therapy. Exercise can improve flexibility and strength and help with the performance of daily activities. Exercise is also prescribed to help reduce the intensity of back pain. Research has found that exercise can reduce the pain by around 10% - 50%.
One problem that is sometimes encountered when it comes to exercising for low back pain is fear-avoidance which can happen when people are too scared to exercise in case they hurt their back more. Understanding and acknowledging these concerns can make a big difference to helping patients with their treatment.
Research has shown that exercise is considered to be safe for people with back pain and that it doesn’t make back pain worse. Exercise actually helps improve core strength to help support the back muscles and spine and leads to increased flexibility. Overwhelmingly, studies have found that global pain ratings improve and that it helps reduce disability.
Exercise And Mental Health
Exercise is also about more than just physical fitness. Back pain is associated with depression and mental health problems and exercise is a great way to produce and increase exercise-induced endorphins that help to boost mood and help people feel happier. It is a great way to help with mental health.
While most of us will experience low back pain at some point in our lives, it is comforting to know that we can do something about it and improve our health.
Back pain is a unique condition and many people will respond differently to different treatments. Fortunately back pain is not a new condition and so there is a wealth of data around which treatments are effective and which are not.
Exercise is the one treatment that guidelines around the world keep coming back to. It is also one of the main treatments that continues to hold up in terms of effectiveness no matter what trials are done around it.
Bonus points for exercise:
It can be a very cost effective treatment.
It can fit into your schedule.
There are lots of different activities that you can do to suit your personality and your lifestyle.
You can make new friends.
You can make your dog happy taking it for walks.
You get mood-boosting endorphins.
Have you found an exercise that you love that you haven't done in a while? Maybe it is time to give it another try, or to try something completely different!