8 things you should know about low back pain - CBS46 News

8 things you should know about low back pain

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Chances are, you've had a few rough days at work due to back pain. What if I told you that in the US, we lose $100 to $200 billion of wages and productivity every year due to back pain? That's about 149 million work days lost according to the World Health Organization. Experts estimate roughly 80% of Americans suffer from spinal issues at some point, making it the leading cause of work absence across the globe. In most cases, it's not clear what causes the onset of lower back pain, which explains why it's more difficult to diagnose.

However, a new study published in the Arthritis Care and Research attempts to provide more clarity. Experts at the University of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia asked nearly 1,000 patients suffering with acute lower back pain whether they have been exposed to various key risk factors, two hours before their pain started. These key factors ranged from physical to psychosocial triggers.

So what were the biggest triggers? Distractions during activity, increased the risk of back pain by 25 percent. For example, a crying child can distract you while lifting something heavy causing your hands to slip and lead to back pain. In fact, the study concluded that distractions increase the risk of back pain at a much higher percentage, than being physically or mentally tired. According to the study authors, “back pain is the leading cause of disability globally, yet there has been little or no progress in identifying effective prevention strategies.”

Despite, the little progress made in curbing the pain in your lower back, there are a few things you should know before losing hope:

Mom was right, good posture is key

When it comes to a healthy spine, good posture is key. However, good posture doesn't necessarily mean upright at 180 degrees, with your chin up and head high. According to a study written by Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon, “good posture is defined as ears aligned with the shoulders and the “angel wings,” or shoulder blades, retracted.”

Dr. Diana Sodiq, D.O. at Emory Orthopedics and Spine Center further recommends that good posture is a matter of sitting with your back pushed to the end of the chair with some form of lumbar support between yourself and the chair. This means giving your heels a rest and sitting with your feet flat on the floor. “This set- up is important at your work desk, while watching TV, or traveling by car or sitting on flights,” says Dr. Sodiq.

Your cell phone and laptops aren't helping

LMBO, that's ‘laughing my back off' to all you serial text addicts.

According to Dr. Hansraj, we spend an average of two to four hours reading and sending texts on our phones or other devices. That is approximately 700 to 1,400 hours a year spent tilted over in a position unnatural to the neck. The average adult's head weighs 10 to 12 pounds when it's upright. However, with every 15 degree angle spent hunching over a laptop or smartphone, the pressure increases. At 15 degrees, we add 27 pounds of pressure to our neck and cervical spine. At 30 degrees, we add 40 pounds and at 45 degrees, 49 pounds. Let these numbers marinate in your head –45 pounds of pressure is equivalent to a 5-gallon jug of hanging on your neck and shoulders!

Photo Credit: Dr. Kenneth Hansraj/Surgical Technology International 

The problem isn't exercise, it's the way you are exercising

Dr. Sodiq says a combination of inactivity and poor core muscle strength can lead to back pain. However, you don't need to bend over backwards to benefit from spine - strength exercises. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, just 10 minutes of simple spine-strength exercises gets the job done. However, the opposite end of the spectrum can be true. If your activity levels suddenly increase, you may be more prone to injury and back pain. “Make it a habit to have some component of physical activity each day,” says Dr. Sodiq.

Know your limits! Dr. Sodiq recommends lifting from a higher surface than the floor. If you do lift something heavy, like a laundry basket or luggage, keep the item close to your body, as you bend your knees and keep your back straight. This allows your legs to do most of the work, not your back.

Weight Gain = Spine Pain

A new year, a slimmer you. There are many reasons to have slimmer hips and tighter tummy and your spine is yet another reason. Being overweight is not necessarily the primary cause of back pain, however the extra weight in the mid-section causes your center of gravity to shift forward, putting more pressure on your back. According to Dr. Sodiq, the extra weight can definitely contribute to low back pain.

You may want to ditch those office chairs

If you are sitting at your desk for hours on end, this one is for you. According to Dr. Sodiq, the inactivity leads to overall muscle weakening, less spinal support, poor posture and more strain on the muscles, ligaments and joints.

Consider how much sitting you do daily: 8 hours at your desk job, 1 hour for your morning and afternoon commute, followed by shooting emails in bed while concluding the day in front of the TV. “With the norm sedentary lifestyle, you are no longer forced to have even small amounts of activity in your day,” says Dr. Sodiq.

However, you can change your sedentary lifestyle. An Australian study published in 2008 suggests getting out of your chair every hour and taking a short break. If you really want to take it up a notch, swap out your chair for an exercise ball.

Invest in good rest

How much are you willing to pay for a good night's sleep? Consider this: we spend one-third of our lives under the sheets, assuming we're following the doctor's recommendation of 8 hours a night. A good bed seems to be a useful investment.

A 2003 study published in The Lancet, assessed how mattress firmness can contribute to chronic non-specific low-back pain. At the time the study was published, the results left many alarmed: those who slept on a medium-firm mattress (5.6 out of 10 in the hard-to-soft scale) had less back pain than those who slept in a much firmer mattress (2.3 out of 10). However, mattress firmness is not the only thing to consider. “If you sleep on your back, I would recommend sleeping with a pillow under your knees. If you sleep on your side, sleep with a pillow supporting your neck and also a pillow in between your knees and slightly bend your knees about 45 degrees,” says Dr. Sodiq.

Poppin' pills won't solve all your problems

Doctors often suggest taking acetaminophen for lower back pain woes. A 2014 study published in The Lancet suggested that the popular painkiller wasn't any more effective than letting the pain subdue naturally. The study divided patients with lower back pain into three groups: one was given acetaminophen, one was given a placebo and smaller dosage of acetaminophen when needed, and the last group was only given placebos. There was no difference in recovery time for all three groups, suggesting acetaminophen may not be that effective for low back pain. However this doesn't mean dismissing acetaminophen in every instance of low back pain.

There are a variety of treatments for low back pain ranging from medications, physical therapy and spinal injections. So what is the best advice for you? Ask your doctor.

Early Morning Woes

Remember the study we mentioned earlier? It may just explain why Americans are missing so many days of work. A new finding from the study says that the risk of low back pain is the highest between 7 a.m. to noon, which explains why so many Americans are calling in sick even before their work day begins.

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