Living With Chronic Pain

What Are The Risk Factors For Developing Low Back Pain?

Last week we reviewed the potential origins of low back pain. In this post, we’ll share some of the risk factors that can contribute to low back pain as well as how to help prevent it.

Age: The first attack of low back pain typically occurs between the ages of 30 and 50, and becomes more common with advancing age. As people grow older, loss of bone strength from osteoporosis can lead to fractures, and at the same time, muscle elasticity and tone decrease. The intervertebral discs begin to lose fluid and flexibility with age, which decreases their ability to cushion the vertebrae. The risk of spinal stenosis also increases with age.

Fitness level: Back pain is more common among those who are not physically fit. Weak back and abdominal muscles may not properly support the spine, leading to painful injuries when stressed. Trying to make up for an inactive week on weekends is likely to result in painful back issues. Studies show that low-impact aerobic exercise is beneficial for maintaining the integrity of intervertebral discs and moderate daily physical activity decreases the potential for harm.

Pregnancy: is commonly accompanied by low back pain, which results from pelvic changes and alterations in weight loading. Back symptoms almost always resolve postpartum.

Weight gain: Being overweight, obese, or quickly gaining significant amounts of weight can put undue pressures on the back and lead to low back pain.

Genetics: Some causes of back pain, have a genetic component, such as ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that involves fusion of the spinal joints leading to some immobility of the spine.

Occupational risk factors: Having a job that requires heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling, particularly when it involves twisting or vibrating the spine, can lead to injury and back pain. An inactive or desk job can also contribute to pain, especially if you have poor posture or sit all day in a chair with inadequate back support.

Stress: Stress can affect the body in numerous ways, including causing muscle tension, and living with chronic pain causes emotional stressors. As discussed in a previous post we can’t separate our emotional and physical issues, one always impacts the other.

Backpack overload in children: Low back pain unrelated to injury or other known causes is unusual in pre-teen children. However, a backpack overloaded with schoolbooks and supplies can strain the back and cause muscle fatigue. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 15 to 20 percent of the child’s body weight.

Recommendations for keeping your back healthy:

A regular regimen of low-impact exercises such as speed walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding 30 minutes daily can increase muscle strength and flexibility. A daily routine of stretching and strengthening exercises as well as low-impact, age-appropriate exercises can benefit back health. Choose exercises that specifically target the lower back and abdominal muscles to improve posture and improve back health (read our posts on Tuesdays for exercise ideas).

• Always stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.

• Don’t slouch when standing or sitting. The lower back can support a person’s weight most easily when the curvature is reduced. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet.

• At home or work, make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height. Proper ergonomic design is necessary to prevent repetitive strain injures and other musculoskeletal disorders  that can develop over time and can lead to long-term disability.

• Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position and height for the task. Keep shoulders back. Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around the office or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of the back can provide some lumbar support. During prolonged periods of sitting, elevate feet on a low stool or a stack of books.

• Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.

• Sleeping on one’s side with the knees drawn up in a fetal position can help open up the joints in the spine and relieve pressure by reducing the curvature of the spine. Always sleep on a firm surface.

• Don’t try to lift objects that are too heavy. Lift from the knees, pull the stomach muscles in, and keep the head down and in line with a straight back. When lifting, keep objects close to the body. Do not twist when lifting.

• Maintain proper nutrition and diet to reduce and prevent excessive weight gain, especially weight around the waistline that taxes lower back muscles.

• Quit smoking. Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine, which can contribute to spinal disc degeneration. Smoking also increases the risk of osteoporosis and impedes healing. Coughing due to heavy smoking may cause increased pressure on the back and lead to pain.

Whether acute or chronic, back pain takes its toll. Don’t let it keep you from enjoying an active, healthy lifestyle.

-Dr. Courtney

Image courtesy of Rebound Physical Therapy

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