Low back pain is something that many of us can relate to. It’s one of the most common reasons that people seek out help from a doctor, and it’s estimated that it impacts about one-quarter of U.S. adults, at least some of the time (1).
Beyond the physical symptoms, low back pain often impacts many facets of our lives. Emotionally, many people with low back pain suffer from isolating effects when their pain and lack of mobility cause them to miss out on fun with family and friends.
Plus, there’s a sizable financial burden associated with low back pain. It’s been estimated that low back pain in the United States costs a whopping $100 billion annually, two-thirds of which are from the indirect costs of lost wages and reduced productivity when people are in too much pain to work (2).
So, what can we do to address the pain? First, it’s important to understand the cause.
There can be many causes of low back pain. The majority of cases are mechanical in nature; things like sprains and strains, sciatica, herniated discs, or skeletal irregularities.
Sometimes, underlying conditions can contribute to low back pain. Arthritis, osteoporosis, endometriosis, and fibromyalgia are all ailments that can all contribute to pain in the back.
Rarely, low back pain can be caused by serious underlying conditions, such as infections, tumors, or kidney stones, all of which require immediate medical attention.
The good news is, most people who seek medical care typically improve within a month or two, particularly when the cause is mechanical.
Muscular sprains and strains are one of the most common causes of low back pain. These can be caused by injury or from the simple act of sitting for prolonged periods of time, such as working a desk job.
Applying superficial heat to the low back is one way to get some immediate relief, along with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil or Motrin. While some people want stronger drugs, opioid drugs have not been found to be more effective and are not recommended for the treatment of low back pain (3). However, your physician may prescribe a muscle relaxant or refer you to a physical therapist when additional support is needed.
Beyond these treatments, regularly stretching and strengthening the muscle groups that surround the back can help to prevent injury and alleviate any pain from an existing strain. Some of the best exercises for low back pain include:
Physical therapy is often thought of as the gold standard of treatment for low back pain. A good physical therapist not only provides you with a customized stretching and strengthening routine, but can also provide some hands-on support to massage and treat any pain points.
Many of the exercise benefits of physical therapy can also be achieved through a dedicated yoga practice. A recent study found that people who attended 12 weekly yoga classes had similar improvements in their mild low back pain compared to those who received 15 physical therapy visits (4).
If you have back pain, you’re ultimately the best judge on when to seek help. But if your pain is intense, has been bothering you for several weeks, or is causing you to miss out on work or other activities, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and incorporate some good stretches and strengthening exercises into your workout routine. Your back will thank you for it.
Wishing you health and wellness,