Low back pain (LBP) is considered one of the most common symptoms people deal with in a lifetime. The numbers show that 80% of people will suffer from episodes of low back pain at some point in their life with most that will resolve on its own. However, some cases tend to become chronic (lasting more than 3 months) and can debilitate the individual for long periods of time and sometimes permanently. LBP is the second most common cause of disability in US adults and a common reason for lost work days. An estimated 149 million days of work per year are lost because of LBP.
The majority of LBP sufferers can narrow down the cause of pain due to trauma, improper lifting/bending, or other internal issue such as kidney stones. However, a very common reason for LBP is from a sedentary lifestyle including prolonged hours of sitting at work with relatively little to no exercise or activity. This can cause de-conditioning and weakness of the back muscles leading to chronic, nagging pain for months and even years. This has fast become the leading cause of LBP and leads to decreased productivity and earnings at the workplace. So what can be done?
1) Start by simply getting up more often from your seated position at work at regular intervals. Stand, stretch, and/or walk around every 30 minutes or so to avoid LBP. This may seem impossible to some with deadlines and busy schedules but consider the alternative of LBP and having to take time off due to it. At the very least, get up from your seat every hour and get a drink of water or use the restroom. Make it a habit doing a little bit each day.
2) Do seated exercises including core activation and range of motion movements. This is as simple as what I like to call “suck and tuck”. Tighten (suck) in your abs by drawing them in firmly. This doesn’t mean holding your breath but simply pulling in your stomach muscles and tensing them. Next tighten (tuck) in your gluteals (buttocks) together. Hold both of these for 5 to 10 seconds and repeat 3-5 times. This naturally takes the pressure off of your lower back muscles and at the same time activates your core muscles.
3) Push back from your desk and simply reach for the floor in a seated position stretching your low back muscles. A basic move with fantastic relief for muscle tightness. Next, sit back in your chair and cross one leg over the other and now lean forward. You will feel a significant stretch to your gluteals with this one. Finish by simply moving your body forward and back, side to side, and in rotation to encourage motion by your spine. Gentle and easy is the way to go.
4) When you get home, make it a point to do an activity that you love at least a few times per week. Walking, running, yoga, pilates, etc. The list is endless. This helps to break up the monotony of the day as well as simply “loosen” you up after a long day of sitting.
The most important thing for chronic LBP is to address the cause whether that is muscle, bone or nerve. This is more than just taking a few medications for the pain. These medications have been shown to lead to chronic pain by preventing the proper healing of the body. Get a full functional and orthopedic assessment to narrow down the cause of your pain and get back to the life you love.