7 tips for preventing lower back pain and stopping it having such a detrimental impact on our lives
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), lower back pain is a very common health problem worldwide. It is a major cause of disability and the biggest cause of work absence with, according to Unison, more than 12 million days lost each year to ‘back pain’ in the UK. But preventing lower back pain can be surprisingly easy.
It is estimated that more than 70% of people in the UK will experience lower-back pain at some point in their lives. While for many, the pain soon dissipates and is more of an inconvenience than a major problem, many people suffer years of acute and/ or chronic pain.
Whilst lower back pain can relate to a specific injury or be a sign of another illness, in most instances lower back pain in non-specific and it can be difficult to pinpoint the root cause.
It is, therefore, essential to consider the following7 tips for preventing lower back pain.
#1 Take care when lifting heavy objects
It is important to put this in perspective:
Lifting is a common cause of lower back pain and, clearly, we should avoid lifting anything that is exceptionally heavy for our personal capabilities. However, a degree of heavy lifting such as carrying shopping bags or picking up a young child is a common everyday activity.
Considering how you lift is the key to preventing lower back pain:
1. Bend at your knees, not your lower back.
2. Pivot your feet and hips rather than twisting your lower back.
3. Hold the object close to your chest as you straighten your spine.
If you have a job that involves heavy lifting, this will put you at risk of back injuries. Your employer has very specific responsibilities to prevent or minimise these risks including providing appropriate equipment and training.
The flip side of ‘lifting’ is that, done properly and not to excess, is an important aspect of strength-building activities. The NHS recommends that carrying heavy shopping bags, for example, is a good exercise for muscle-strengthening and therefore preventing the risk of lower back pain.
#2 Exercise Regularly
We all know we should exercise regularly but that does not have to be in the gym.
There are three main types of exercise: cardio (aerobic), strength and flexibility. Whilst cardio is essential for general fitness, strength and flexibility exercises, often combined, is essential to build muscle strength and maintain flexibility, both of which are essential in our aim of preventing lower back pain.
Strength and flexibility exercise can easily be built into our daily routine. Carrying heavy shopping bags and gardening, for example, are great exercises. This very simple lockdown workout includes exercises that will help strengthen core muscles and reduce the risks of developing lower back pain.
Importantly, don’t do crunches and sit-ups as these encourage poor posture and potentially add to or help create lower back pain and disc injuries.
If you are already suffering back pain, consider gentle exercises such as stretches, walking, swimming, yoga, and Pilates which can help keep you active, reduce the pain and build back strength.
#3 Consider your sleep posture.
You might be surprised by how much your sleeping position affects your mood, health, back, breathing, and much more. It is one of the most impactful decisions you can make about your sleep patterns.
If you are feeling constant and regular back pain, you should change your sleeping position to see if things improve.
It is generally accepted that sleeping on your back protects your back and reduces pain, but if you are a slide sleeper, it is important to alternate sides to help prevent lower back pain developing.
Your sleep posture is also affected by your mattress. Although individual preference will ultimately dictate the choice of mattress, it is important to ensure you are sleeping on a quality mattress that provides sufficient support. For most people, a medium-firm mattress is possibly the best option. And do ensure that as soon as a mattress starts to sag it is replaced.
If you are in a situation where your bedroom is multi-use, you may perhaps be using a sofa bed. Perhaps you are living in a small bedsit, or you have semi-permanently returned home because of COVID and/or looking after an elderly relative. Or perhaps you are now working from home and your home office is in your bedroom. If this is the case, it is very important you consider a high-quality, best sofa bed for everyday use.
Feng Shui principles suggest that it is best not to use your bedroom as a home office, but if this is unavailable find that quality sofa bed and ensure you change the look and feel of the room whilst you are working.
#4 Improve your general posture
Apart from our sleep posture, how we sit, stand and walk can all impact our lower back health.
Most of us underestimate the importance of good posture but it is a huge asset in terms of preventing lower back pain.
An increasing problem, even more so with so many people now working from home, is sitting at a desk in front of a screen for many hours. Slouching is definitely bad for us and can be a very hard habit to break. But surprisingly, sitting ramrod straight for long periods can also be a strain on your back.
It is important to have a good quality chair, at the right height and with appropriate support. Take a break a few times a day, maybe just for a few minutes every 30 minutes or so. And when sitting, you should lean back in your chair with your feet on the floor and with your back slightly curved.
#5 Stop Smoking
Smoking damages your health, and it isn’t only detrimental to your lungs, but it drains your stamina, harms your joints, and increases your chances of experiencing pain in your back and other parts of your body.
If you want to reduce your chances of regularly experiencing back pain, you need to try to quit smoking or significantly reduce it.
#6 Avoid High Heels
Sorry ladies, but although high heels might be considered sexy, they put extra pressure on your back all day long – especially if you walk around a lot.
Many studies show that not wearing excessively high heels reduces the pressure on your back and by extension reduces the intensity and the frequency of the back pains you may already be experiencing.
Fortunately, fashions change and the trend for wearing trainers for almost any type of occasion seems to be ion the increase.
#7 Eat Nutritious Food
It is no secret that nutritious food is necessary for a healthy life, but you might be surprised that good food is also essential for preventing lower back pain.
The food you eat, and thus the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids your body absorbs, has a direct impact on the health of your joints and muscles. A healthy diet, such as a Mediterranean diet, with the correct proportions of fat, carbohydrates, and proteins, helps to keep your body at its optimum potential which will enable the natural repair of normal day to day stresses and strains.
New research also shows that people who have a diet rich in Vitamin C have higher skeletal muscle mass.
Your weight of course is an essential element in preventing lower back strain. Being overweight can considerably increase your risk of developing back pain and even potentially longer-term back damage. Overweight ‘weekend warriors’ are particularly at risk. (People who lead a sedentary lifestyle all week but push themselves too hard at the weekends.)
But equally, being too thin may indicate a lack of sufficient nutrition resulting in weak muscles and bone loss. Skinny people are more prone to broken bones and crushed vertebrae.
Whilst suffering back pain at some time in your adult life is almost inevitable, preventing lower back pain by taking the above simple steps can dramatically improve the quality of your life in both the short and longer-term: if you do succumb to lower back pain it is likely to be less intensive and your recovery will be much quicker.