Diana Yu, BSc, MScOT Student
Have you ever injured your back or experienced some sort of back pain? If you have, then you’re not alone, as 80% of the population will have experienced back pain at one point in their lives.1 Back pain is one of the most commonly diagnosed chronic conditions and is a leading cause of disability for individuals.1 Not only can it be a nuisance to have constant discomfort, but back pain can also interfere with daily activities, work performance, and quality of life. Back pain often varies in its duration, and is generally categorized as either:
- Acute or subacute: pain that is present for less than three months
- Chronic low back pain: pain that is present for more than three months
What are the culprits behind back pain?
Among many causes, postural stress is the most common cause of lower back pain in the majority of the population. Postural stress refers to the stress we exert on our bodies from poor positioning, repetitive movements, or staying in the same position for prolonged periods of time.2 This can be caused by uncomfortable sleeping positions, sitting with a hunched back, lifting or reaching with a rounded back, or prolonged standing or sitting.
What are some ways to treat back pain?
Fortunately, in all cases of back pain, there are numerous options for treatment. Let’s first take a look at some ways to address acute and subacute back pain:3
- Medication – Over the counter medications, such as Tylenol® or Advil®, can be used to relieve associated back pain. You can also take over-the-counter muscle relaxants, such as Robax®, for a short period of time to prevent or reduce muscle spasms, which can also contribute to pain or discomfort. Speak with a health professional to find out which option is best for you.
- Ice or heat – Icing an injury can provide short-term relief by reducing inflammation and swelling. On the other hand, heat increases blood flow to the muscles causing relaxation, reducing spasms and stiffness. Based on your injury and preference, you can alternate between heat and cold. However, keep in mind that heat or cold should not be applied directly to the skin and for no longer than 15 to 20 minutes. So, it may be advisable to use a cloth or towel to wrap the source of heat or cold.
- Mobilize and stay active! – This sounds like the opposite of what you want to do when you have an injury right? Prolonged bed rest or inactivity is not recommended for acute and subacute lower back pain. In fact, it’s recommended to stay active and continue your usual activities at a pace that doesn’t cause more irritation or pain, as activity can prevent stiffening and deconditioning of muscles, which benefits recovery.
Approaches to managing chronic back pain are slightly different from that of acute and subacute back pain:3
- Graded exercise programs – Start off with gentle exercise and gradually increase your exercise level within your pain tolerance. Physical activities such as walking, aquatic exercise, or yoga have been known to be helpful in the treatment of chronic lower back conditions.
- Gradual resumption of daily activities – As with acute and subacute back pain, it’s important to stay engaged in normal activities, such as work and physical exercise.
- Maintaining proper body mechanics – Proper body mechanics involve having good posture in your day-to-day activities, and not just when you have back pain. Practicing good body mechanics reduces stress on your spine while you’re in various positions (like sitting or standing) or when moving objects. Additionally, it can help prevent future injuries.
The following are some of the things you can try to maintain proper body mechanics on a regular basis:4,5
- Try to keep your back in a neutral position by keeping your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles aligned.
- Avoid stretching or twisting motions, especially while carrying heavy loads.
- When lifting heavy loads, try to keep your back straight and lift with your legs.
- When lifting objects, position your body close to the object rather than bending and reaching for it. For example, while doing activities such as vacuuming or sweeping, walk with the vacuum/broom rather than reaching far with it.
- Avoid staying in one position for too long. Take a walk, or have stretch breaks as needed.
- If you have to sit for a prolonged period, try to use chairs that support your lower back and legs.
The Bottom Line
Back pain is a very common condition amongst the population. Most of the time, individuals can return to their work and daily activities within a few weeks. However, back pain can also result in severe consequences if managed poorly. In the end, prevention is the key, so remember to protect your back and avoid injuries by exercising proper body mechanics and limiting postural stress!
As always, consult a healthcare practitioner if you want advice on persistent or extreme back pain. And of course, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook, or at email@example.com with any questions or concerns.
- Ehrlich, G. E. (2003). Low back pain. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 81, 671-676. Retrieved Mar. 23, 2018 from http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/81/9/Ehrlich.pdf
- Lowe, K. (2014). Postural stress [PDF]. Retrieved from http://rebalance.net.nz/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Postural-stress.pdf
- Guideline for the Evidence-Informed Primary Care Management of Low Back Pain (2nd ed.) (2011). Institute of Health Economics, Alberta, Canada. Retrieved Mar. 23, 2018 from http://www.cfpc.ca/uploadedFiles/Directories/Committees_List/Low_Back_Pain_Guidelines_Oct19.pdf
- British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). (n.d.). Body Mechanics. Retrieved March 26, 2018, from https://opentextbc.ca/clinicalskills/chapter/3-2-body-mechanics/
- Healthwise Staff. (2017, March 21). Body Mechanics. Retrieved March 26, 2018, from MyHealth Alberta website: https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=sig59692