The main injuries and problems that can bring on nonspecific lower back pain include: overuse or overload injuries caused by heavy, repetitive or improper lifting; bad posture; age-related problems such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and general degenerative changes; and trauma-related events such as car accidents, sports accidents, falling from a height and slipping on ice.
Luckily, many injuries and problems can be prevented. For example, learning how to pick up a load properly will help avoid a back injury, while regular exercise will strengthen the back muscles and vertebrae, thus reducing the risk of back injury. And of course, extra care and attention can help reduce the risk of a fall.
1. Immediate and proper diagnosis by a health professional is the first step. The physiotherapist or M.D. must first diagnose the problem in order to set up the proper treatment that will be most effective in addressing the underlying issue.
Self-diagnosis is not advised, while an extended delay in starting the appropriate treatment means dangerous loads on unhealthy tissues and structures which may aggravate the pain to a disabling level. This can also lead to disc herniation, neurological symptoms such as weakness and tingling of the legs, and even the need for surgery.
So be sure to seek immediate medical help if you experience moderate to serious lower back pain or have had an injury that affected your back. Sometimes an early evaluation by a professional physiotherapist can solve the problem in about three to six treatments – and save you a lot of pain and money in the future.
2. Proper sitting posture is important for everyone, including those suffering from lower back pain, as improper sitting posture can increase existing pain. What is proper sitting posture? Sit on a good chair, with your hips all the way back and both feet on the floor. A lumbar roll, a small pillow specifically designed to maintain the normal curvature of the lumbar spine, is highly recommended.
3. Keep on the move! By avoiding a static posture such as stooping or prolonged sitting, you will help reduce the chance of the pain getting worse. Stand every hour or so, do two minutes of stretching or walk for 30 seconds, then go back to sitting in a proper posture.
4. Driving is very stressful on the back, so try to stop the car every hour-and-a-half for a two-minute break to do some stretches.
5. Be careful when you lift! Avoid lifting heavy loads during the first two hours of the morning, as the discs are very fragile at this time. If you absolutely need to lift a heavy object, follow the lifting method of bending and lifting with your knees – not with your back. Also, be close to the object you want to lift, as this reduces the load on the back.
Richard Bouzaglou, a certified physiotherapist, is the director of Physiotherapy services at the AMS Clinics in Montreal. He can be reached at Richard.bouzaglou@AMSclinic.ca; www.AMSclinic.ca; Tel: 514-300-1031.