Whether it's due to lifestyle habits, such as long hours spent in front of the computer, or caused by strenuous activity or accident, we've almost all suffered from localised back pain at some point and know just how debilitating it can be. One of the most annoying types is lower back pain – lumbago – where the problem is located at the bottom of the spine where the lumbar vertebrae are found. It can come on overnight, or its onset can be almost instantaneous, as a result of an awkward or forced movement. Friends tend to laugh knowingly when you say you have a bad back, but when you're suffering, it's no joke.
What causes it?
The spinal column acts as the central axis of our entire being, it supports our whole body weight and as we go about our daily lives the spine is continuously subjected to stresses and forces. These produce alterations in function that can cause pain and discomfort. To compound the problem, there are many jobs and activities that cause postural stress or require prolonged effort, which makes them liable to trigger lumbago and back ache.
A sedentary lifestyle with no physical exercise, the type of bed or mattress you sleep on, sitting awkwardly, forced movements and badly supervised exercise are some of the factors that may lead to back problems. The most frequent and milder form of lower back pain is due to the contraction of lumbar muscles caused by inflammation, stress or trauma. The most serious cases are caused by degenerative changes of intervertebral discs leading to a 'slipped disc' and the accompanying disabling pain. Vertebral pathology in older people, with dislocation, crushing and osteoporosis, is also a frequent cause of lumbago.
Severe pain is the main and unmistakeable symptom, and usually occurs after making a sudden movement, lifting heavy weights, unusual sustained effort, or after spending a long time in an awkward position. Located in the lumbar region, the pain is often so bad as to be completely debilitating: it's difficult to stand upright, and all movement, even walking, is intensely painful.
Exercise and your back
There are special exercise routines for strengthening the back muscles, which will help prevent problems occurring. Other systems and methods intended to enhance muscle endurance and strength and improve relaxation, such as yoga, Pilates, kinesiotherapy, etc., can be very effective in treating and preventing back pain. Remember, though, such exercise routines should be supervised by a doctor or physiotherapist.
- Avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Try and take regular and moderate exercise.
- Watch your weight. If you are overweight you are imposing additional stress on your back; losing weight will tend to alleviate the symptoms associated with back problems.
- Choose the right bed. A hard mattress, or one specifically designed for back sufferers will make a big difference.
- Applying local heat often alleviates pain.
- Relaxation, massage and stretching can be very effective.
- Back pain may be associated with weight gain, bad posture and breathing habits.
- Special exercise routines and workouts for the back are very beneficial, but should be supervised by an expert.