The Facts about Lower Back Pain

Lower Back Pain Statistics

The number of Americans experiencing lower back pain has been steadily increasing each year, and worldwide it is the leading cause of disability. Experts estimate that up to 80% of the population will experience back pain at some time in their lives, and according to the American Chiropractic Association, 31 million Americans experience low back pain at any given time. While many people with lower back pain recover, reoccurring symptoms are becoming more common, as is the number of people whose back pain becomes chronic and disabling. In the United States alone, it is estimated that lower back pain costs $50 billion in health care costs each year. That number quickly surpasses $100 billion if you add in lost wages and decreased productivity.

The Solution

The statistics above clearly show that lower back pain is a serious problem, but what can be done to help solve the issue? Previously, the solution was thought to be stretching more often and performing strengthening exercises regularly. In fact, this is what most doctors start off recommending to help relieve lower back pain. However, Lorne Opler, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, explains that stretching often puts the low back into flexion. Many people are intolerant to flexion and this causes their back pain to worsen. When it comes to strength exercises, the likelihood of performing the exercise incorrectly increases the more tired and fatigued a person gets. It is common for people to push their limits and further irritate their  lower back muscles.

In his research on low-back rehab, Dr. Stuart McGill, Professor Emeritus of Spine Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, found that endurance is the true solution to lower back pain. Enhancing endurance allows us to avoid awkward movements, such as slouching, that lead to lower back pain and maintain proper movement throughout the entire day.

Endurance Improving Exercises

Listed below are McGill’s “Big Three” endurance exercises proven to improve spine stability and create balanced stiffening of the core muscles:

  1. McGill Curl Up: This curl up requires you to lay down on your back with one knee bent and one leg fully extended. Place your hands below your lower back to maintain the natural arch of your spine. Then do a curl up without tucking your chin or tilting your head back, and hold for 10 seconds.
  2. Side Bridge: Start by laying on your side and place your forearm on the floor with your elbow under your shoulder. Your knees can be bent at a 90 degree angle, or for a greater challenge you can extend your legs straight. Then lift your hips off the ground keeping a straight line from your head to your knees as you hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
  3. Bird Dog: Begin in a table top position, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Then simultaneously extend your left arm and right leg. Hold your core tight and keep your arm and leg as straight as possible while you hold for 10 seconds. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.

Perform three sets of each lower back exercise, decreasing the time you hold the movement with each set. Begin with 10 seconds, then 8 seconds, and then 6 seconds for the last set. This allows you to build muscular endurance without fatiguing the muscle. These exercises are designed to build a pain-free foundation for more activity, but it is always important to discuss any new exercise regime with your doctor. For more information on lower back pain and for detailed diagrams of each exercise mentioned above, click here!

Additional Tips

In addition to performing endurance exercises, here are additional tips from WebMD to help relieve or prevent lower back pain:

  1. Be physically active
  2. Maintain a healthy weight
  3. Quit smoking (or never start!)
  4. Don’t sit for long periods of time (remember WELCOA’s “Sit for 60, Move for 3″rule)
  5. Create an ergonomic workspace that supports your lower back
  6. Pay attention to your posture and correct any slouching
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