Few among us haven’t, at one time or another, struggled with lower back pain. It seems that once you reach a certain age, an aching back becomes par for the course, with lower-back pain ranking as one of the top three reasons Americans visit the doctor.
An episode of back pain can last anywhere from a few days to a lifetime. With so many people seeking help for their aching backs, it’s no surprise that a plethora of gadgets, gizmos and pills promises relief to the consumer. Be they prescribed medicines, patches, braces, or shoe inserts, they all act as band-aids and rarely do more than temporarily mask the pain.
That’s where Chris Maher, a physical therapist turned back-pain researcher, comes in. Maher, based out of Sydney, Australia, was curious to discover if there were techniques people could use to treat and prevent episodes of acute lower-back pain from occurring in the first place. To do so, Maher, along with colleagues in both Australia and Brazil, compiled 21 studies from around the world, consisting of over 30,000 participants in all, with the goal of discovering how to best prevent and treat lower-back pain. Their findings were recently published in JAMA International Medicine.
A recent NPR article sums it up nicely:
While back belts and shoe insoles didn't seem to offer a benefit, they determined, exercise reduced the risk of repeated low-back pain in the year following an episode between 25 and 40 percent. It didn't really matter what kind of exercise—core strengthening, aerobic exercise, or flexibility and stretching.”
Unfortunately, sustainable, no-cost exercise is rarely prescribed by physicians. One wonders if this points to a much broader problem within the medical community: is it a culture that mismanages pain by prescribing sellable products?
The same NPR article goes on to explain,
The result is massive costs—and likely a lot of avoidable back pain. By some estimates, in some years the country has spent about $80 billion on spine problems including lower back pain, money lost on treatments, imaging, surgery, pain medicines and the cost of missed work days.”
What then, might the takeaway from this study be? Use it or lose it! Maintaining a healthy back means strengthening it with physical activity, whatever the kind. We all do a lot of sitting around nowadays, whether it is in front of our computer screens at work or in front of Netflix at home. Listen to your body. Your back pain is telling you to get up and get moving.
Here are four exercise regimens that are both good for the back and easy to do.
Improve your flexibility and loosen up your back with a simple stretching routine at night before you go to bed.
The combined practices of stretching and strength building through balance make yoga a dream come true for those suffering from back pain.
Studies have shown that all it takes is about of 4 1/2 hours of Pilates a week to work magic on back pain. Pilates strengthens core muscles around the spine and leads to greater flexibility.
Physical therapists often suggest light strength training, such as the use of body weight and bands, to build up muscle strength and stabilize the entire body including lower-back area. This type of exercise also helps prevent future injury during everyday activities such as lifting a child or heavy object.
- Prevention of Lower Back Pain via JAMA International Medicine
- Forget the Gizmos, Exercise Works Best for Lower Back Pain via NPR
- Four Exercises to End Back Pain via Prevention