Low back pain is a common occurrence in the United States. Approximately 80% of people will experience at least one episode of low back at some point in their lifetime. The back is made up of muscles, nerves, tissue, and bones. All of these back components work together to allow us to stand and bend. When one of these is not working normally it causes us pain. Risk factors that may make a person more likely to get back pain include older age, overweight, smoking, sedentary work, or physically strenuous work. Back pain can be caused by a variety of sources. The vast majority of back pain is not caused by a specific disease or abnormality. Back pain is rarely caused by a serious medical condition.
There are some types of back pain your provider does need to know about for sure. These include back pain caused by a fall or accident, back pain associated with pain in your lower legs or weakness, and back pain that does not improve over the course of four weeks. Weakness in one or both legs and associated bladder and/or bowel dysfunction can be a sign of a medical emergency and should be addressed as soon as possible.
To improve low back pain, there are multiple things that can be tried. Contrary to popular thought, remaining active is one of the best things to do for short-term low back pain. People with low back pain will recover quicker if they remain active. The movement helps prevent muscle stiffness and helps to relieve spasms in the back. However, high-impact activities should be avoided. Day-to-day activities should be fine to continue. A good rule is to "let pain be your guide." If it hurts too much, stop the activity and try something else. Bed rest may be necessary for severe back pain, but generally no more than 1-2 days. A heating pad on the low back can also be helpful. It is important when you have low back pain to avoid standing, sitting, heavy lifting, or twisting for prolonged periods of time. Over the counter medications such as Tylenol, Aleve, or ibuprofen can also be used as long as they do not interact with any other of your medications. Low impact exercises may also improve low back pain such as walking, swimming, and stretching. If the back pain continues beyond 4-6 weeks physical therapy may be helpful to determine specific stretches and exercises for your back pain.
Back pain can be frustrating when you are trying to work. Remember to lift with the knees and tighten your abdominal muscles to avoid excess strain on your lower back. Using the wrong lifting technique will only make back pain worse. It is also important to change positions throughout your work day. Taking brief breaks to walk around from sitting or standing can prevent low back pain. The best way to prevent low back pain is to exercise on a regular basis and maintain an active lifestyle.