Lower back pain is one of the most common conditions affecting millions of Australians. The lower back consists of five vertebrae (bones) and discs which act as shock absorbers. These are surrounded by many muscles and ligaments which assist with mobility and stability. As the spine is a complex structure, low back pain can have a variety of causes including postural stress, muscle strains or weakness, nerve irritation/compression, ligamentous sprains or disc injuries.
If faced with an acute episode of low back pain, there are several strategies which should be encouraged to give you short-term relief and promote a speedy recovery.
As tempting as it is to keep still in bed or remain sitting, one of the worst things to do is to significantly reduce activity. Prolonged rest or immobilisation only serves to increase inflammation and encourage further stiffness and muscle spasms. If you are experiencing a ‘dull ache’ in your back, the simplest rule is to continue with normal activities as much as possible. Should you experience sharp or local pain, the activity should be stopped immediately. I commonly encourage patients that if they do need to rest, to move or stand up every 15–20 minutes.
Be mindful of your posture
Try not to slouch or slump when sitting. Another key point is to minimise time spent in a reclined position. Often this can appear quite comfortable but sitting with your feet up and legs straight can actually increase the pressure being placed through the low back.
Be careful lifting
Aim to reduce lifting from below knee height. If required to do so, ensure that you aim to keep your back as straight as possible and bend through your hips and knees. Tighten your tummy prior to lifting.
As back pain can be debilitating and painful, consider speaking to your pharmacist or doctor who can assist you with pain management. The aim of pain management is to allow you to maintain mobility and begin your rehabilitation as quickly and safely as possible. In addition to medication, or as an alternative, try utilising an ice or heat pack to assist with the pain.
As well as helping to aid recovery and manage symptoms, your physiotherapist or health professional can also focus on rehabilitation in order to prevent recurrences of the same problem. Often this may involve a combination of exercises in addition to self-management strategies to reduce the load being placed through the back.
Jason Lee APAM
Malvern East Physiotherapy
Jason is happy to answer any questions you may have, simply send an email to email@example.com