How to prevent low back pain

GEHA | November 22, 2019

everyday health physical exercise
Almost everyone experiences low back pain at some point. The pain can be intense, but it often gets better on its own. Severe back pain after a fall or injury should be checked out by your doctor.

Almost everyone experiences low back pain at some point. The pain can be intense and is one of the top causes for missed work. Fortunately, low back pain often gets better on its own.

Symptoms range from a dull ache to a stabbing or shooting sensation. Acute back pain comes on suddenly, often after an injury from sports or heavy lifting and lasts a few days to a few weeks. It tends to resolve on its own with self-care, which is why imaging is not recommended within the first month of diagnosis. Prescription-strength pain medication and physical therapy are also suggested. Pain that lasts longer than three months is considered chronic.

Severe back pain after a fall or injury should be checked out by your doctor. Warning signs include loss of bowel or bladder control, numbness, leg weakness, fever and pain when coughing or urinating. Also contact your doctor if you have back pain and a history of cancer, unintentional weight loss, long-term steroid use, weak immune system, or your pain gets worse with rest.

Common causes of low back pain

  • Muscle strain: heavy lifting, exercising too hard, overstretching
  • Your job: sitting at a desk all day, lifting, pulling or anything that twists the spine
  • Your bag: carrying a heavy purse, backpack or briefcase every day
  • Workout: overdoing it at the gym, on the field, court or golf course
  • Posture: slouching when standing or sitting
  • Lifestyle: being overweight or physically inactive
  • Age: age-related changes of the spine

Back pain due to muscle strain usually gets better on its own. Here are steps you can take to be more comfortable.

  • Hot or cold packs, heating pad or warm bath
  • Limit bed rest and return to your normal activities as soon as possible
  • Stretching or yoga
  • Visit a chiropractor
  • Get a massage
  • Pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen, and pain-relieving creams

Preventing low back pain

  • Stay at a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Lift with your legs, not your back
  • Maintain good posture when standing and sitting
  • Make sure your work surfaces are at a comfortable height
  • Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position and height
  • Use a standing desk while working in an office
  • Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes
  • Sleep on your side with knees bent
Try these measures before getting a X-ray, MRI or CT scan. Unnecessary imaging for low back pain does not lessen pain or improve outcomes. On the contrary, it exposes patients to unnecessary radiation, treatment and health care costs. 

Sources:
“Low Back Pain Fact Sheet.” www.ninds.nih.gov, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, December 2014.
“Guide to Low Back Pain.” www.webmd.com, WebMD LLC, 11 December 2017.