The back is a strong and flexible structure. It,s a marvellous piece of engineering but it is also susceptible to developing lots of problems. And because of the many nerves that run throughout the spine and into the rest of your body, a problem in the lower back can lead to leg pain, hip problems and more.
Why is your lower back so prone to injury?
The lower back is subject to injury while lifting something heavy with bad technique twisting, or a sudden movement. Any of these movements can cause muscles or ligaments to stretch or develop microscopic tears. Over time repetitive stress or poor posture can also lead to muscle strain or other soft tissue problems.
And while a muscle strain sounds simple, in the lower back the pain from a simple strain can be severe.
The lumbar spine (the lower back) has 5 motion segments and connects to the sacrum at its lowest point. Most twisting and bending takes place among those segments, although the majority of the motion takes place in the lowest two segments, called L4/L5 and L5/S1 The structures in these two lowest segments are the most likely to wear down over time or be injured. Being the lowest parts of the spine they also have the weight of a large part of he body going through them.
Tips to prevent lower back pain
1. Exercise your core. Strong core muscles provide support to the spine and reduce the risk of injury. Low-impact cardiovascular exercise like walking increases blood flow to the spine, suppling nutrients and hydration to the structures in your lower back. Classes like Pilates will work to target and strengthen the core muscles.
If exercise seems impossible to you, make small goals to slowly get yourself moving more, such as going up and down your stairs 3 times in a row or walking with a friend. A fitness tracker will count your steps and you can compete with others (some phones have this feature)
2. Correct your posture. Poor posture places pressure on your back and can cause degenerated discs to become more painful. Support the natural curve in your lower spine by using an ergonomic chair which will support your lower back. Make sure to get up and walk around at least once an hour if you sit most of the day. If you can, use a standup desk for at least part of the day that will benefit you. Learn how to stand properly again a class like Pilates will help you with this. A simple visualisation is to imagine you have a string on the top of your head pulling you up towards the ceiling or just try and grow an inch.
3. Lift heavy objects correctly. Even if you’re young and strong, you can still injure your lower back if you lift a heavy object incorrectly. If you don’t know the proper technique there will be videos on YouTube. Basically make sure your back is straight and you bend your knees using the power of your legs to lift the object not a bent back.
4. Improve your overall physical health. The spine reflects the overall health of your body. Anything you can do to improve your overall physical fitness and general health will benefit your spine as well. This includes drinking lots of water, not drinking excessive alcohol, eating a less inflammatory diet and stopping smoking/avoiding any nicotine intake.
It is also important to get enough deep, sleep, as too little sleep can lead to back pain and/or worsen an existing back condition.
5. Frequent travellers, take note. Traveling in a plane or car can really take a toll on your lower back. If you are a frequent flyer try and get up regularly and walk around during the flight and be careful when collecting your suitcase from the carousel. Learn how to be a defensive driver. Many people have sustained a serious back injury a result of a car accident. I’m afraid I’m stumped on what to do on a overcrowded commuter train!
6. Stretch your hamstrings. A little-known cause of low back pain is tight hamstrings. I often prattle on about gluteal amnesia (and a result of this is that the hamstrings will start to act as a postural muscle and this tightens them. The lower back will also tighten up and the tight hamstrings will make this worse. This is something we always work on in class.
If you have ever suffered with lower back pain (and 4:5 people will do at some stage in their life) you will know how this can take hold and effect your life.