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OUTCH, That Hurts: LOWER BACK PAIN



It’s almost unbelievable the number of ways you can hurt your lower back and the number of people who are affected. You can tweak it, compress it, stress it out, throw it out, sit too long, stand too long, bend funny; leaving you in pain for days if not forever. And, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “about 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes” (NINDS 2018). That’s just too many people and too much pain. We kind of hate that.


What we don’t hate is getting educated. We want you to know common causes of back pain, how to treat it, and for those of you not dealing with it, how to prevent it.

BUT FIRST...a bit of levity.


If you have about 14.5 minutes, just take a listen to Rachel Dratch, SNL’s Debbie Downer, share what happened to her after she picked up a bag of groceries from Trader Joe’s on The Moth. It’s quite the predicament, and we’d love for you to never experience that immobilizing pain unless you can turn it into pure comedy-gold for later dinner parties. And even then, we’d recommend against it.


Common Problems


Now, while Rachel had a whole back episode, we are talking about a much more specific section of your spine, particularly these 5 vertebrae: L1 - L5.


While these 5 bones and the muscle and tissue near them support the upper body, it’s no wonder we’re getting our lower back all out of whack.


To give an overview on back pain, we’re going to the categorization basics: what you’re feeling and what the causes are.


Acute pain is not cute. It is more like Rachel’s pain, coming on quick and putting you back a few days or weeks. It can be severe. This damage usually happens if you lift something incorrectly, move quickly in a way your body is not familiar with, or have poor posture for a prolonged period of time.


Mechanical Pain, more often than not, a type of acute pain. This pain is caused when your pain is coming from muscles, joints, and ligaments. It’s caused because something is not quite right structurally. You’ll feel it when you try different movements. Mechanical pain can be a source of acute pain.


Causes of Acute or Mechanical Pain

  • Muscle tear and/or strain

  • Sprain of your ligaments and/or muscles

  • Inflammation of joints

  • A pinched nerve

Chronic Pain is any pain that lasts for longer than the bodies normal healing process, of three months. This is a bit more serious and usually involves a disc, joint, and/or nerve problem. If you hit the three month mark and aren’t feeling better, it’s time to see the doctor.


Causes of Chronic Pain

  • Disc degeneration/Osteoarthritis

  • Radiculopathy

  • Nerve damage

  • Arthritis

  • Lumbar herniated disc

Radicular Pain this is specific to nerve pain. If your spinal nerve becomes inflamed you’ll get that sharp twinge, usually felt on only one side of the body.


So, with all these unique ways to hurt, what can you do to alleviate the pain?


How to Alleviate & Prevention


Not that surprisingly, the things you can do to alleviate pain and techniques for prevention are very similar. The biggest thing though is also the most counterintuitive...DON’T HIDE & HEAL IN BED!


Getting back in bed is THE LAST THING you want to do. Those who only rest are going to lose their flexibility and get stiff. Obviously, don’t overwork yourself, but get up and get that blood flowing by doing some of the following:

  • Move. Put on some Dean Martin and Sway, or at the very least, least stand up and walk around. Maybe go a block or two to get that blood flowing and combat all of the sitting you may be doing throughout the day. While you’re at it...

  • Strengthen your core. Your lower back takes on so much pressure from the rest of your body. If you have poor posture and a weak core, there is nothing else there to support you. Do crunches, do sit ups, do planks and shoulder touches. Flex your abs while you walk around the block. Do a mental check while you’re sitting to see if you’re engaging your core or slouching. Go to that pilates class that you hate. Your body (specifically your lower back...and let’s be honest everything else, too) will thank you.

  • Stretch. Oh please, do so much of this. And don’t just focus on stretching your back. Stretch your hips, your quads, and your hamstrings, too. I’m not saying that you have to take up yoga or anything (though, that would knock out 4 of the 10 recommended things), just do your body a favor and incorporate these very simple lower back pain stretches into your routine.

  • Roll Out. If you’re already stretching, adding foam rolling is a really simple addition. It’s excellent to do before stretching to warm up the muscles, lengthen, and get a full range of motion.

  • Meditate. Ok. Ok. I get it. This is not up everyone’s alley. You don’t have to actually meditate if that’s not your jam, but do something to help you de-stress. Those nasty spikes in cortisol levels can knot up your back like nobody’s business. Spotify, YouTube, and Headspace all have free guided meditations that’ll bring you presence.

  • Don’t move your back in weird ways. This one is a given, but really don’t do this. Unless you’re in tennis, gymnastics, or a dance class, this isn’t a part of your normal routine, and it’s certainly not something your body is used to or trained for. Leave it to the professionals. If you have to lift heavy things, like a Trader Joe’s grocery bag

Alleviation Specific

  • Rest. There’s a difference between spending all your time in bed and resting. Rest means not overexerting yourself. Rest means giving yourself some down time. You can still stretch and foam roll and meditate and also rest. You can take a quick walk and then rest. Give yourself downtime, but also don’t linger in your pain.

  • Hot and cold packs - While resting, you can also get some hot and cold packs for your lower back. For that ice, 10 minutes on 10 minutes off. It will help warm up the muscles and decrease any inflammation or numb any pain.

  • Acupuncture - Looping back to Rachel’s story one last time. Have someone recommend you to an acupuncturist before going, or, at least, be sure they have really good reviews. The person sticking and twisting needles into your body needs to be well-qualified. Studies have shown that acupuncture is helpful in temporarily alleviating chronic lower back pain. But again, make sure they’re legit.

  • Visit a Chiropractor - Chiropractors can work wonders on alignment through chiropractic adjustment. They know more about they type of manipulation your body will need, so we’ll leave it to them to explain it to you!

  • Acupuncture - Looping back to Rachel’s story one last time. Have someone recommend you to an acupuncturist before going, or, at least, be sure they have really good reviews. The person sticking and twisting needles into your body needs to be well-qualified. Studies have shown that acupuncture is helpful in temporarily alleviating chronic lower back pain. But again, make sure they’re legit.

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