Studies indicate that 60-70% of individuals are likely to experience non-specific low back pain at some point during their lives. Unfortunately, low back pain symptoms often present after many years of sustained damage and stress to the lumbar spine. Through creation of good habits and rejection of poor ones, low back pain can largely be prevented.
Lower back pain is one of the primary complaints in the clinical setting. Often it’s thrown in as an aside, as if it’s a given. “Oh, and my back hurts too.” After a little investigation it’s easy to identify several issues that likely contribute to the ongoing pain. The difficulty lies in the fact that back pain symptoms often present after multiple years of persistent stress on the lumbar spine. By the time the issue is addressed, many individuals have developed a unique (and unfounded) self-management strategy for dealing with their symptoms. At this junction, it can be difficult for people to break the habits that caused or exacerbated their symptoms.
Posture is a primary point of emphasis for those with back pain and I believe it should be for every individual from a young age. At the crux of the matter, posture is a habit. When you’re tired, hungry or busy; posture is pushed to the bottom of the priority list. The longer you spend in this state, the more “normal” poor posture becomes. Your body eventually begins to default to this position of poor posture. Muscles begin to function inefficiently and then eventually, when they have all but given up…ouch. Hello, back pain.
Posture is much more layered than simply walking like you’re Michael Jordan after hitting the game winning shot. Posture is integral whether you’re sitting (desk, car, couch), standing or even sleeping. It should all be considered habit creation. The earlier we start to focus on maintaining good posture, the easier it will be to sustain throughout the ageing process.
Let’s get Physical…ly Active
Physical activity as a habitual practice is often overlooked. We know that we need to be physically active for pristine physical conditioning, but setting aside time for regular physical activity is as important a habit as you can create.
Specifically for back pain, creating regular habits to counteract high-risk situations such as prolonged sitting can be extremely beneficial in preventing and managing low back pain.
Examples can be as simple as standing up every hour and going for a stroll. Some of my favourite implementations that I use are pushing my feet into the ground and holding a lower limb co-contraction. Additionally, isometrically engaging the core when the clock hits “00” at the start of each hour. I have also recently adopted a timer on my phone that breaks up my day so that I don’t get swarmed with busy work and forget to get some physical activity in.
It doesn’t need to be an intense work out. Just some simple exercises to keep the right muscles working to support the spine is all that’s needed to prevent and manage low back pain.
Don’t DIY – Avoid unproven self-management
This is really an anti-habit. Too often patients have settled for a variety of self-appointed treatment options that they perceive to benefit their back. Most of the time these ‘tactics’ are just maskers of pain and don’t alleviate the true cause of back pain. The danger with self-management strategies is that many of these can end up doing more harm than good.
The types of things that I have come across include intense wriggling of the hips or neck, stretches that involve poor technique, misusing aids such as pillows/back rests as well as self-massage or manipulation.
Treatment is often impeded early on as we spend (waste) time on un-learning some of these self-management techniques that have stemmed from poor habit creation. It adds an extra hurdle, which could easily have been avoided if treatment was sought at an earlier juncture.
Conclusion & Summary
Lower back pain can be one of the most persistent and frustrating forms of pain in the human experience. Don’t just be reactive, get ahead of the curve and do your back a favour by implementing healthy habits and behaviours.
• Creation of good habits and rejection of poor ones is vital for a healthy back
• Maintain good posture during sitting, standing and sleeping.
• Engage in regular physical activity to break up prolonged sitting
• Seek treatment early to avoid creating poor self-management tactics