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Posted on 04-13-2015

Having lower back pain is almost a certainty. The likelihood and the intensity depend a lot on your lifestyle. While the cause of some back pain can be readily identified, such as a herniated disc, the majority of back pain is diagnosed as “non-specific”.

Is lower back pain just an unavoidable consequence of being human brought about by the poor design or structure of the human lower back? I suggest not. There is much that can be done to prevent and recover from lower back pain. The human body is amazingly resilient and is capable of astounding healing and recovery.

As I have mentioned in prior blog posts not all back pain is the same.  M.A. Adams illustrates this in graphical form. We have more back pain when we are inactive and we have a different type of back pain when we are consistently under heavy loads. In other words, Silicon Valley office workers who sit for 8+ hours per day and are relatively inactive all day have a different type of back pain than a Bangladeshi dock worker who lifts 100 lb bales of cotton for 10+ hours per day. Looking at the graph, you see:

  • As activity increases the line slopes down and has a wide area where the incidence of back injury is relatively lower
  • It begins to climb more rapidly as the load of physical activity gets higher.
  • On the left side of the graph we have a stereotypical office worker – a person who has very little activity all day long.
  • On the right side we have a day laborer – a person who repetitively lifts and bends under heavy loads all day long.

Intuitively we understand that heavy lifting and physical work will take its toll. Let’s investigate the other end of the curve. How does relative inactivity affect us? A sedentary life produces a general intolerance for the activities of life. There is truth to the old saying “use it or lose it”.  With little activity our muscles atrophy; i.e., shrink and tighten.

This produces muscles that are not able to do one of their essential jobs which is to stabilize the skeletal system including the joints of the spine. One example is the effect of prolonged sitting on the muscles that cross the hip joint (typically identified as the “Hip Flexors”.) When we sit these muscles shorten over time with the effect of exaggerating our lower back curve. This tips the pelvis forward. The hamstring muscles try to counteract this by pulling in the opposite direction. (These hamstrings never stretch out – primarily because your central nervous system keeps telling them to pull especially right after you stretched them!)

Also, after one hour of sitting our hormones change and our metabolism begins to slow down. Sitting for extended periods has been linked with a number of health concerns, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels.

What can be done? Move more both at work and at home. Movement helps our body dissipate tension and energize the lymphatic system. By working more in a standing position we will be activating more of our muscles throughout the day. Here are some simple suggestions to make that happen:

  • When on the phone, stand or walk. This is great if you often have conference calls.
  • Have walking meetings or discussions with coworkers.
  • Use a sit-stand workstation. Standing and working most of the day actually translates into approximately 20 more calories burned per day. 
  • Take a walking lunch or walk immediately after meals. This helps regulate your blood sugar too.
  • Drink 2 quarts of water during the day. This will make you get up eventually.
  • When you get up remember to stretch gently and repetitively. The computer and even driving make us collapse forward. Do the mirror image by tilting you head back, looking up, and getting your arms up over your head.

Activity, even leisurely activity, can have a significant positive effect. For starters, you'll burn more calories and have increased energy. Additionally, the muscle activity from standing and other movement triggers metabolic processes related to the utilization of fats and sugars. When you sit, these processes stagnate — and your health risks increase. When you're standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.

The above activities will go far to help you prevent painful episodes. Movement is your greatest ally. If that is not enough, or you’re having trouble getting to that activity then ask for some help. Chiropractic, Active Release Techniques, and targeted therapeutic exercise are all excellent interventions to help a person who is suffering from lower back pain. These will all help improve movement and function of the spine.

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