A staggering 100 million people suffer from low back pain in the United States at any given time, according to a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. In addition, an estimated 50 billion dollars are spent on treating low back pain each year, yet it remains this country’s leading cause of missed work and still holds true that eight out of ten Americans will experience it at some point.
The price we pay for low back pain is high and growing. It’s time we turn our attention toward avoiding this problem, not just treating it.
First, what causes low back pain and why has it become one of this country’s leading neurological ailments, second only to the common headache? – Contrary to intuition, studies have shown that low back pain is significantly more predominant in office workers then in those who spend their days conducting hard physical labor. The suggestion here being that the rise in back problems over the years may result from a gradual loss in strength of deep abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis) due to lack of use. Muscles, which play a key role in supporting the low back by absorbing pressure otherwise placed on the spine’s lower vertebrae.
The increase in back pain frankly comes as no surprise when viewed along side the increase in population who now lead relatively sedentary lifestyles. Most acute back injuries occur when we perform an activity, not that we are ill capable of performing, but rather, one for which we are ill prepared.
Just think about all ways we hurt our backs; lifting boxes, carrying groceries, standing up too fast. With the exception of straining to lift something twice your body weight, these are, for the most part, activities that coincide with the way our bodies were designed to function. But because our means of survival have evolved from hunting and gathering to sitting and typing, so have our bodies, and our de-conditioned frames are no longer equipped to accommodate those occasional demanding tasks we impose on them. Now the result is debilitating low back pain.
Realistically, we can’t simply avoid each and every potentially back-pain-inducing activity. We need to prepare ourselves to be able to carry those boxes or lift a potted plant and not end up on the floor the following three days. By investing just a few minutes time and a little effort each day, we may just save ourselves a whole lot of time, money, and pain down the line. Here’s what you can do – Work on regaining strength in those deep abdominal muscles by:
1) Practicing the “drawing-in-maneuver” by drawing your naval toward your spine when performing any standing exercises or going to lift even a light object around the house.
2) Incorporating balance training into your daily routine by standing on one foot when performing your bicep curls, or even by putting on your shoes and socks standing and balancing as opposed to sitting on a chair. Get creative; make it a game.
3) Making a conscious effort to draw in and tighten your stomach before going to stand up or lift a heavy object.
4) Pay a little extra for a quality desk chair; one that feels most comfortable for you.
With a little training, these muscles will eventually spring into action automatically, whenever needed, and act as an internal weight-belt protecting your lower back.