Low back pain affects nearly 80% of people every year, so chances are that at some point you may have been affected by low back pain. Low back pain causes people to call in sick to work, miss gyms days, lose precious time with friends and family and ultimately affects quality of life.
So why does low back pain occur? Low back pain does not just happen. The body is quite resilient and will put up with long static positions, improper posture, compressive loads and suboptimal lifting techniques for a period of time until it gives up. It’s like ‘the straw that broke the camels’ back.’ It is never just one incident that typically causes the pain you may be currently experiencing or have experienced in the past. Pain is always the last symptoms to appear and the first to go away but it does not mean that everything is functioning properly.
Your low back is vulnerable for two reasons;
Its lack of structural support: The lower back is designed to be flexible so that you can twist and bend. But that mobility also means that there is less structural support, which can make it unstable and more prone to injury.
It supports your body weight: The 5 bones, or vertebrae, in the lower back support the weight of your entire upper body. This constant strain and improper spinal positions can damage the discs that serve as cushions and shock absorbers between the bones.
Sitting is the worst position for the spine because of the high compressive loads on the lumbar discs. Sitting in a flexed position causes the discs to be loaded unevenly. The posterior joints are not utilized and so their load bearing function cannot be used. The strain is then put on the disc and the ligaments get stretched. If this happens for long periods you may undergo ‘creep’ which is where the ligaments lengthen or stretch and so they lose the ability to stabilize the spine which can cause major issues.
Lower crossed syndrome is typical in most people with low back pain where one might have tight hip flexors, low back spinal erectors and a weak core and glutes. So, how can we help prevent low back pain? When sitting or standing for long periods of time it is important to change positions at least every 20 minutes, to re-set your posture and give your low back a break and always keep your abdomen braced about 5-10%.
In the gym; it is essential to stack the lumbar spine when lifting weights and to not hyperextend or round at the lumbar spine. Keeping a neutral spine is important and awareness of your spinal position is crucial especially with heavier loads, more demanding metabolic environments or just reacting and correcting a lift that starts to lose form fast.
Take care of your body and ensure that mobility and recovery are part of your health plan. Get back to the basics. Your low back will thank you!