Lower back pain is extremely common. 80 percent of Americans will experience lower back pain at some point in their life. Back pain is the second most common reason we visit our primary care doctor, and why many of us miss work and life activities. Total costs of lower back pain are more than $100 billion annually. Though very painful, the source of lower back pain is often a result of overuse, aging and stress to bones, discs and joints. Here’s the good news if you suffer from lower back pain – physical therapy is very effective in treating it. Here’s the better news – you can reduce the severity of lower back pain or prevent the onset of it with just a few easy tips.
1. SIT LESS
On average, Americans sit 13 hours a day! Besides the risks associated with being sedentary, excessive sitting is strenuous on the lower back. Sitting, especially sitting poorly, puts tremendous stress on the lumbar discs, the muscles and ligaments and bones of your lower back. If you sit a lot during your day, set a timer for 20 minutes. Get up, look toward the sky and stretch your lower back or better yet, take a quick walk. While seated, sit well. Make sure the natural arch of your lower back is supported by your desk chair, your car seat and your sofa pillows. Very few of us can sit correctly without support. I’ve met two clients in twenty years who could truly sit well unsupported.
2. STOP STOOPING
Many of my clients use one body movement to unload the dishwasher, pick up their kids, and work in the garden. They stoop! Stooping means pitching forward at your waist with straight knees to bend toward the ground. While this body movement is safe to do some of the time, repetitive stooping creates excess stress on the lower back. Many clients who herniated lumbar discs were simply stooping to pick up something as light as a pencil. It wasn’t that one stoop that did it but rather the countless stooping motions that preceded it. The structures of the lower back are not only picking up the weight of the object but are also holding up about 50 percent of your body weight! Learn to squat, kneel and vary the demands on your lower back as you do your work.
3. EXERCISE YOUR PELVIC FLOOR MUSCLES
Two decades ago we thought that pelvic floor exercises were only for pregnant women and clients who were suffering from incontinence. What we’ve learned is that our pelvic floor muscles work in tandem with our core abdominal muscles to support our lower back. People who have a chronic history of lower back pain often have weak pelvic floor and core abdominal muscles. Pelvic floor contractions are easy to perform and can be done throughout the day. Gently lift your pelvic floor muscle as if you are trying to pull them up and in, hold 3 seconds and then release. When you activate your pelvic floor, co-contraction of your core abdominal should naturally follow. I encourage clients to do “stoplight pelvic floor exercises.” Performing 4 sets of 25 repetitions each day can reduce your risk for lower back pain.
As always, it’s best to see a physical therapist to understand the root causes and develop the best customized program for your specific back problem. Lower back pain, while common and sometimes quite painful, is very treatable and very preventable without surgery or drugs.