Every night, 36 year old Martha couldn’t sleep. “My back hurts. It’s not really that painful. But it makes lying on bed so uncomfortable that I rarely sleep well!”, Martha says while pointing at the lower part of her back. The dental assistant and mother of three is having low back pains and she’s only one of millions around the world who are also suffering from it.
In fact, it’s been reported that one of five adults will experience low back ache at some point in their lives. According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), half of all working Americans admits having it. ACA says low back pain is the most common reason why Americans miss work and it’s also the second most frequent reason why they visit the doctor, next only to upper respiratory infection.
So why do low backaches happen and are there ways to prevent them?
The lower back, or lumbar spine, is the third and last curve of the back. It’s composed of five lumbar vertebras that are separated with structures called intervertebral discs. The lower back is involved in movements like bending and rotating on the waist. It also protects the soft tissues of the nervous system, spinal cord, pelvis, and abdomen. But its primary function is to support the upper part of the body. The lower back actually carries most of the body’s weight so it’s no wonder that it’s so prone to pain.
There are many causes of low back pains. Below are the most common:
• Torn or overstretched lower back muscles and ligaments. This basically results from bad posture. You have a poor posture if you frequently slouch while sitting, sleep all night in one position on a sagging mattress, lift things over your shoulder, sit or stand too long, bend at the waist, pull objects, or sit on a chair that’s too high or too far from your work desk.
• Damaged disc between the vertebras. If a disc is torn, ruptured, worn out or bulging, it can’t absorb shock or cushion the vertebrae. This condition leads to inflammation which then irritates the spinal cord and causes pain.
In particular, ruptured disc, also known as slip disc or disc herniation, can result to severe pain and disability as the dislocated disc pinches the spinal nerve, puts pressure on the spinal cord, and produces pain that extends to the buttock, thigh and legs.
The disc can be damaged through abrupt movements such as sudden lifting of heavy objects. As one gets older, the disc naturally thins out causing the vertebra to rub on each other which leads to nerve irritation, inflammation and pain.
• Obesity. Since the back is already burdened with most of the body’s weight, extra weight may strain the lower back.
• Fatigue and emotional stress. These are said to cause back muscle spasms that result to pain.
• Bony encroachment. This is the narrowing of the opening through which the spinal nerve passes from the spinal cord to the body. This is often a consequence of other medical conditions including the slippage of one vertebra to the other (spondylolisthesis) or the compression of nerve roots by other structures (spinal stenosis).
• Bone and joint conditions. These include conditions that are either congenital or acquired such as the incomplete development of the spinal cord (spina bifida), lateral curvature of the spines (scoliosis), and inflammation of the joints (arthritis).
Low back pain is of course resolved by treating the disease at its root cause. However, in the absence of any other health condition, there are some ways to prevent low back pain as follows:
• Observe good posture and do moves carefully. Stand with your head, ears, shoulders, hips and knees aligned. Protect your back while sitting. Avoid staying in one position for a prolonged period. Don’t be static. Sleep in different positions while making sure your mattress is firm enough to support your back. Lift objects slowly and, especially if heavy, never casually. Stand with you back against a wall. Push things instead of pulling them.
• Exercise. Keep you back healthy and strong with regular exercise like aerobic, swimming, yoga, walking etc. Exercise also delays the progression of age-related bone degeneration.
• Eat a nutritious diet. Consume foods rich in calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin D such as dairy, vegetables and fruits to keep bones healthy and prevent bone diseases such as Osteoporosis. A healthy diet coupled with exercise also keeps unwanted pounds off. Obesity as mentioned contributes to back pain.
• Quit smoking. Smoking contributes to bone loss and decreases pain threshold. Nicotine in cigarettes also constricts blood vessels thereby decreasing the flow of blood to your lumbar area and thus limiting the nutrients going to your back structures.
• Manage stress. Have ample time for rest and relaxation. Think positive. Laugh. Count your blessings. Learn to say “No”.