Low Back Pain
The low back (or lumbar spine) is made up of 5 vertebrae, stacked on top of each other. Between each vertebra lies a cushioning disc, which consists of a soft semi-fluid centre part called the nucleus, surrounded by layers of tough fibrous tissue called the annulus fibrosis. The disc acts as a shock absorber for the spine, & also allows flexibility & movement.
Many of you will have heard the term ‘slipped disc’. However, the disk does not ‘slip out’. When a disc is injured, the nucleus protrudes or ruptures through the annulus fibres, & so it bulges out. This can cause back pain in itself & if it presses on a spinal nerve it can cause a pain to radiate down the leg (‘sciatica’). Discs are the most commonly injured structure in the low back, however it is important to remember that there are other structures that can give you back pain.
Injury to the disc can happen with a relatively minor incident, such as bending over to pick up a piece of paper from the floor, but this is usually just ‘the straw that breaks the camels back’. Disc injuries are usually caused by years & years of wear & tear. MRI’s of people without Low Back Pain have shown a high percentage of discal changes – so if your MRI shows up changes they might have been present before you go the pain and so you can work with the physio to get back to having no pain.
Wear & tear is a normal process, however there are certain activities that can speed this process up. These include things such as:
– excessive twisting
– frequent bending & lifting, especially with poor technique
– Static work postures
– Vibrational conditions
– Low fitness, poor health, and being overweigh
– Poor posture
So, apart from avoiding these things, what can you do to help prevent back aches & pain?
Firstly, you should take a good look at your posture. Good postures place even pressure on the discs & even stress on the ligaments. They can also be maintained for longer because your muscles don’t need to work too hard. With poor posture, muscles tire, your ligaments are put on stress & uneven pressures are spread through the discs.
To correct your posture:
– stand up tall
– unlock your knees
– tighten your tummy & buttock muscles
– lift your ribcage
– look ahead with your chin tucked in.
This is not only important for standing, because sitting actually places higher amounts of pressure on your lumbar discs. So, when sitting, try to maintain the curve in your low back (you can do this with a lumbar roll or a rolled up towel placed in the small of your back), draw your shoulders down & in gently, & tuck your chin in.
Finally, if you have a long history of back pain, if you have just started to experience back pain or if you would like to know what you can do to prevent it, seek help from a physiotherapist. Through their techniques & some simple exercises, they can help to reduce your pain, improve your range of movement, reduce your muscle spasm & increase your strength. They can also assess the factors that may be contributing to the problem, which could be anything from your work set-up, your lifting technique, your mattress or your own biomechanics.
So don’t just ignore your back pain in the hope it will go away. Find out what you can do to help improve or prevent it!