Let’s be honest, we’ve all experienced some sort of lower back pain throughout our life span, whether it’s a small tweak of discomfort resulting from a funny twist, turn or bend, or a more lingering dull ache that makes its appearance after a long, hard day, we’ve all complained a time or 2. But if you haven’t yet experienced the nagging pain in your lower back, well then heck that’s pretty impressive and you can consider yourself to be one of the lucky ones! Lower back pain is considered as one of the most prevalent conditions of the 21st century, but how much do we really know about it? Time to dive a little deeper, shall we?
1. Back pain is one of the most prevalent ailments and surprisingly costs the country more than cancer and diabetic treatments combined, bet you didn’t know that! At least 80 out of 100 people will experience back pain, usually caused by everyday strains and sprains, during their life time and often it’s recoverable. The truth is a large portion of lower back pain can be attributed to muscle weakness (more specifically core weakness), poor flexibility and joint range of motion (especially of your Hamstrings), as well as overuse and poor execution of everyday functional movements like bending and picking up objects. Yes, believe it or not there is a correct way of bending ladies and gents – making sure you hinge at your hips when you bend down and not at your lower back lessens the strain on your lumbar vertebrae and significantly reduces your risk of injuring your back. Furthermore, our busy, stress-induced lifestyles don’t do us any favours either. Lower back pain has been proven to be more prevalent among the sedentary population, also known as people who don’t move enough! And if we’re chair-bound and chained to a desk for a large portion of our day it certainly means we’re not moving enough! So trick is, GET MOVING!
2. Scans aren’t necessarily required when you’re experiencing back pain. Most people think that as soon as they experience back pain that they should rush to their nearest hospital and get an X-ray or MRI done, and then they break their back seven further trying to pay for it because trust me, scans don’t come cheap. The truth is a short visit to your healthcare provider such as a General Practitioner, Biokineticist, Physiotherapist or Chiropractor will be able to identify if a scan is really needed depending on your symptoms and past medical history. It’s also important to keep in mind that the interpretation of your scans can be skewed and misinterpreted. Research has shown that back scans of people who have bulging or herniated discs don’t even experience pain. Often people who do have back pain are told that all of these indicators are definitely the cause of the pain, when sometimes it may be referred from elsewhere or simply just muscle weakness.
3. More pain does not necessarily mean more damage! This might sound a bit strange, but this may be related to changes in environments or hypersensitivity. So, when you’re having a bad day at work (murphy’s law) that little pain may just be bound to aggravate you even more.
4. When a disc or joint is ‘out of place’ it also doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the result of your pain. Yes, in some cases it may be, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves and go for the whole manipulation thing unless it is really diagnosed and required.
5. Bed rest is NOT the answer! Yes, ok you may be in pain, and resting a day or two after your painful incident such as spraining an ankle is a good idea. However, when it comes to back pain, depending on your symptoms, bed rest will only make your condition worse. Yes, when we’re in a state of pain or discomfort the last thing on our mind is definitely exercise. I can see you shaking your head right now ‘Exercising while I’m in pain, are you insane?’ But the truth is, depending on your pathology, certain exercises and stretches are fantastic for relieving lower back pain. And not to mention they will definitely help you a great deal in the future. Having a strong core, stable hips and flexible Hamstring go a long way in preventing and managing lower back pain.
6. For most of us a good night’s sleep is hard to come by, and often lower back pain can be related to a shoddy night’s sleep as well as a bad mattress. Therefore improving your sleeping routines as well as having a good supportive mattress can go a long way in reducing lower back pain and discomfort.
7. Did you know that stress levels can negatively affect your pain? Well, it’s true! So, put a smile on your dile, take up something you enjoy and reduce that anxiety and those mood swings.
8. Lifting goods and bending is seen as a no go when you have back pain. Repetitive bending, especially bending to pick up heavy objects, can result in increased strain being placed on your lower back. This will result in you being pretty immobile, relying on others to carry out your demands, which may not be such a bad thing. However, this may become quite annoying for your newly acquainted ‘butlers.’ The key is to perform your movements carefully, as well as avoiding any aggravating movements, especially while your pain is still acute.
9. Exercise is one of the most effective and drug free remedies you can use to help out with the pain, and the most awesome part about it, is that exercise is essentially free and can be done anywhere and anytime you choose! Physical activity relaxes muscle tension, releases endorphins and generally improves your immune system. Under-used muscles tend to cause more pain, especially in the long run. However it’s all about the RIGHT exercises. When you’re in pain there is absolutely no reason for you to perform weighted squats and jumping lunges like they’re going out of style, not only will you not be able to do them because of your pain, you will also make it a whole lot worse! Take it back a step and focus on getting that core activated and strong! Effective core strength and optimal joint range of motion coupled with correct movement execution is essential for managing lower back pain. So, get up, get exercising and make sure that pain never returns again!
10. ‘Persistent’ back pain can indeed get better! Treatment can take a while and may not happen immediately. Take all of the above mentioned factors into consideration when seeking treatment, one form ain’t necessarily gonna make the cut!
Another persisting pain that you may often hear people complain about is Sciatica or Sciatic nerve pain. Sound familiar? Let’s take a closer look at what exactly Sciatica entails. You can think of your Sciatic nerve as your body’s N1 highway. It travels a long and windy road, branching off into various directions and small towns along the way, and sometimes you will even encounter some horrible, frustrating traffic. I mean what is a highway without some congestion right? So, as you figured, your Sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body and stretches all the way from your buttocks to the back of your thigh, down your lower leg and all the way to your foot, quite a highway isn’t it! As with the burden of traffic, the problem comes when the Sciatic nerve is placed under undue pressure or strain or subjected to injury. Resulting in a condition known as Sciatica in which a radiating pain is felt down the back of the leg. Even though the term Sciatica is thrown around far too frequently these days without adequate diagnosis, it still carries a heavy sentence. But don’t worry, as long as you pay your fines and address you problems, your highway will be flowing again in no time at all.
Although there are various causes of Sciatica, Piriformis Syndrome can be viewed as a major culprit. You can think of your Piriformis muscle as one of those sneaky speed cops hiding in the bushes. Stealth, unpredictable and you can often not see it coming. The Piriformis is a very small, specialised muscle located deep in the buttocks region. When the Piriformis muscle is injured or goes into spasm, often due to overuse, it can entrap or put pressure on the Sciatic nerve due to its close proximity. This irritation of the nearby Sciatic nerve by the sneaky Piriformis can cause pain, tingling and numbness down the back of your leg and into the foot, similar to that of Sciatic nerve pain. Sciatica can often also be accompanied by lower back pain.
Once you’ve identified your pain and the culprits that might be causing it, it is essential to take the necessary steps to treating and managing it. No one should live each day, or any day for that matter, in pain, remember that! But, only you can change it, so make sure you do!