When a person experiences back pain, a condition eight out of every 10 people will deal with this at some point in their lives, his or her first instinct is typically to stop moving and rest until their back starts to feel better.
This, may be good for a day or two, but then it can make the situation worse, said Tacoma physical therapist Paul Drumheller.
“Moving around keeps the muscles moving,” said Drumheller, owner of 3Dimensional Physical Therapy & Sports Conditioning in Tacoma. “Most of the time with back pain, you want to keep up with the activities of daily life as much as possible, take a brief walk a couple of times a day, and stretch to maintain mobility.”
According to Drumheller, patients seeking care for chronic low-back pain (LBP) can make up a large part of the treatments at his 3Dimensional Physical Therapy clinic. Often the pain will go away on its own over time, but when the pain becomes reoccurring, it becomes necessary to dig a little deeper to find (and resolve) its cause.
“Some physical therapy and direction on exercise can help prevent back pain from becoming chronic,” he said. “But, most of the patients we see have experienced chronic back pain for quite a while. And the most prevalent causes are a lifetime of bad habits.”
These bad habits include poor posture when sitting and standing, improper or repetitive movements (i.e., the way one pushes, pulls, lifts and carries), excess weight, and even poor sleeping. And like many bad habits, these can carry a hefty price.
According to multiple reports, low-back pain is the second most common cause of disability for American adults. An estimated 149 million days of work are lost each year due to LBP, with total costs estimated between $100 to $200 billion annually – mostly due to decreased wages and lack of productivity.
There are some quick physical therapy fixes to low back pain, Drumheller said.
“But it’s more a matter of education and re-learning certain skills,” he said, reiterating that movement and exercise make the most difference. As muscles strengthen and (when necessary) weight decreases, the body gets more stable and more functional, and the low-back pain will often improve.
Drumheller offers these suggestions for preventing reoccurring back pain:
Learn to move properly: Revisit the proper ways to push, pull, lift and carry. For instance, don’t bend your back when lifting, carry the load close to your waist, try to rotate instead of twist and lower the load slowly. Also, always know the limits of what you can push, pull, lift and carry.
Be aware of posture when sitting or standing. Head, shoulders and hips should be in alignment, knees and feet should be stable, and don’t sit too long in one position. If you work from a desk, Drumheller recommends a standing workstation. If your job is more physical, warm up and stretch to start your day.
Get plenty of sleep in a comfortable sleeping position. This doesn’t mean investing in expensive mattresses or pillows. The solution is to find ways to keep limbs in alignment and eliminate pressure points that could cause numbness. Consider what position is most comfortable to sleep in, then consider if this position causes pressure, pain or numbness. Use rolled towels and/or pillows to support areas that are out of alignment. (See a video about sleep positions made by 3Dimensional Physical Therapy here.)
And of course, if while going about the day your back continues to hurt, schedule a visit with the 3Dimensional Physical Therapy team. The physical therapists will determine the specific cause of your particular pain, then provide treatment, education and a prevention strategy that helps ensure a pain-free future.