Back pain – how to reduce it?

Dear Dr. Mo: My lower back hurts. What can I do besides medication to reduce the pain?

Back pain affects 80% of the population

Back pain affects 80% of the population

Dear reader: Back pain is sadly a very common ailment that affects most of us (some 80%) at some point in life. Although in many cases some anatomical/organic problem exists in the back, our repeated behaviours stress our bodies and strain our muscles and bones, making the pain more frequent, prolonged and more intense.

There are a few behaviours you can try to avoid to reduce your back pain (especially lower back pain) or to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

1. Sedentary behaviour: Being a couch potato and not exercising at all.

Exercise of any kind but particularly core strengthening exercise (like Pilates and power Yoga) greatly assist in keeping the good posture. Good posture reduces strain on the spine and lower back in general and significantly reduces pain.

Studies have shown that walking is just as good for reducing lower back pain as exercising in a gym – a 30 minute brisk walk 5 times a week could be your thing in battling the back pain. Check out this info graphic describing different types of physical activity you can do every week to cash in the recommended weekly 150 minutes.

2. Poor posture: I already mentioned anatomy and it can be negatively affected by continuous poor posture. Poor posture can actually change the physical features of the spine and change force distribution along its lines; this strains the spine further, causing surrounding muscles to flex more and become cramped, causing pain.

Stand with your knees just slightly bent and always keep one foot a bit forward to ease some weight off your spine and back.

3. Smoking: it’s never an immediate thought but smoking damages your spine.

Nicotine reduces the amount of blood that flows into your spine and feeds the disks that cushion the vertebrae. This reduction of nutrients over time damages the disks and accelerates degenerative change, which comes with age.

4. Lifting: Lifting heavy objects incorrectly can cause an injury.

If you must lift, make sure you bend your knees, keep the weight close to you body and avoid twisting.

5. Being overweight: Excess weight, especially located centrally in and around our belly puts additional forward weight on the thoracic and lumbar spine.

Keep your weight gains if possible at maximum of 10% above your ideal weight – anything above this would strain your spine to the point that could cause back pain.

Let me repeat once again: walking is just as good as any other physical activity so start with that. I walk every day – Vancouver is just a fantastic place to do it.
Walk wherever you can instead of driving or using public transportation. This way, you will both reduce your carbon footprint and your back pain.

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo