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The Lowdown on Low Back Pain—and How to Find Relief

By Brittany Risher | October 26, 2017
The Lowdown on Low Back Pain—and How to Find Relief

Low back pain is not only common; it’s one of the biggest health problems in the world. 75–85 percent of adults will experience low back pain at some point in their lives, and it's the number one cause of disability in most areas of the world.

Luckily, many kinds of low back pain are often easy to alleviate and prevent without resorting to surgery. “Most back pain isn't serious and will resolve over time with common sense care,” says physical therapist John D. Childs, PhD, and CEO of Evidence in Motion, a company that trains physical therapists.

What Causes Low Back Pain

“Most people think herniated discs, arthritis or something about the spine is the cause of low back pain, but that's not the major reason,” says Norman Marcus, M.D., director of the division of muscle pain research at NYU School of Medicine.

Instead, it's more about our muscles—and our desk jobs. “I don't believe that our spine has evolved enough to keep pace with the demands we put on it,” says Dr. Bart Bishop, DPT.

Our ancestors were nomadic, walking everywhere and hunting and gathering food. But today walking is something many people try to minimize, and most of us sit behind a desk for hours, day in and day out. That sedentary lifestyle is causing us pain.

“Sitting at a desk for long periods of time tightens up muscles in the front of hips, weakens muscles in the back of hips and gluteal region, and puts pressure on the discs and joints in the lower back,” Bishop explains. “So we see people who don't have enough strength and range of motion in their hips, or enough range of motion in their mid-back.” If we had that strength and mobility, we'd have less irritation in our backs, he says.

How to Treat Low Back Pain at Home

There are all sorts of ways to alleviate low back pain at home. Try a few of these, and see what works for you!

Cool it Down

One way to do treat low back pain is with cryotherapy (cold therapy). Ice is the most common method of cryotherapy, but it’s not always the most convenient. Another alternative is Biofreeze® Pain Reliever.

“Biofreeze works a lot like ice, but it's substantially more portable and even faster acting,” Bishop says. Biofreeze is thought to work through something called the Gate Control Theory, which is where an outside stimulus interrupts the pain signal on the way to the brain.

It even works comparably to using electric stimulation. In a 2013 study, Bishop and other researchers treated patients with low back pain with either Biofreeze or transcutaneous neuromuscular electrical stimulation (TENS), a common technique that helps reduce pain. Both groups reported a significant decrease in pain, disability, and fear avoidance behavior. But since Biofreeze is about $15 compared to about $75 for TENS, it's a much more cost-effective way to treat back pain, Bishop says.

Tape it Up

You can also apply kinesiology tape at home to ease low back pain. In a study led by Bishop, clinicians applied TheraBand® Kinesiology Tape™ to the lower back muscles of patients with weak gluteal muscles. “That was enough to help them have less pain and better function. They were able to do the things they wanted to do more often with less pain,” he says.

Plus TheraBand Kinesiology Tape reduces pain without immobilizing you or reducing your range of motion. You can apply the tape in minutes and go about your daily routine. You probably won't even notice the tape, but you will notice how much better you feel.

Bishop recommends TheraBand Kinesiology Tape because it's water resistant, plus his research has found that it has better adhesion to the skin over 5 days compared to other brands. So you can put it on and not worry about it for days.

It's actually quite simple to apply TheraBand Kinesiology Tape yourself, thanks to the XactStretch™ Technology, which eliminates misapplication, even for people who've never used it before. As you stretch the tape, the hexagon pattern on the tape stretches too. When the small hexagon is equilateral, this means the tape is stretched 25 percent. An equilateral large hexagon means it's stretched 50 percent.

When Should You Seek Professional Care?

Although you can ease low back pain at home, there comes a time when you should seek a healthcare professional for help.

So if you experience low back pain for more than four or five days, he advises seeing a physical therapist or chiropractor who's trained in functional examination. They can analyze your movements to determine which rehabilitation exercises will help you move more properly, and they likely will perform spinal manipulation, Bishop says.

Rehabilitation exercises help stretch and strengthen key muscles, which can help in reducing your pain. “In our studies, we found that people with lower back pain inefficiently use muscles in their buttocks, especially the gluteus maximus. That puts more pressure on the lower back and causes those muscles to be excessively used, leading to pain,” Bishop says.

One great way to work the muscles surrounding your lower back is to add a TheraBand® CLX™ resistance band to the mix. “Using the TheraBand Resistance bands helps you get better activation and contraction of the muscles of the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius,” Bishop says. For a demonstration of a few exercises, watch this video, and talk to your therapist about using resistance bands with your recommended treatment.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, about 90 percent of the time, even debilitating low back pain will improve without surgery, so try any or all of these treatments to see what works best for you. “Surgery should be the absolute last resort, and only after all other treatments have been exhausted and someone has pronounced leg pain or weakness,” Bishop says.

To find a specialized healthcare professional near you, try using the Professional Finder. Just click Fast Search, then enter your zip code and select the type of healthcare professional you’d like to see and you'll be presented with a list of professionals nearby. For a more detailed search by body part or objective, enter your zip code and click “Continue.”

How to Prevent Low Back Pain

There are a few simple ways to prevent most back pain.

Move Every Day, Consistently

You can prevent a lot of back pain in the first place by not chaining yourself to your desk. “I believe standing up for 20 seconds every 20 minutes can go a long way toward preventing or lessening back pain, Bishop says. Consider setting an alarm or calendar reminder so you stand up and maybe bend backward a few times.

“Keep moving to keep your muscles flexible and keep the blood flowing,” Childs says. “If you stop using your body, your muscles become deconditioned, which makes pain worse.” Marcus recommends working up to a goal of two to three miles a day, which is about 4,000 to 6,000 steps if you use a pedometer or fitness tracker.

Strengthen Your Core

In addition to basic movement, many experts recommend core stabilization exercises, such as planks and those performed in Pilates, which are thought to help strengthen the back, Childs says.

You can even strengthen your core with exercises using the TheraBand® CLX™ resistance band. Try some of the exercises in a playlist, like this one.

Sit with Good Posture

When you do sit, be sure your chair has good lumbar support and that your feet touch the ground with your knees bent at about 90 degrees, Marcus says. (Use a foot stool if necessary.) Your computer monitor should be straight ahead or about 15 degrees below eye level and about arms' length away.

Posture Tips-01.jpg

Lift Carefully

Improper lifting can quickly lead to back pain: “When you lift, start with the object in front of you (not to the side) and bend your knees because the power muscles aren't your low back, but the muscles of your butt and thighs,” Marcus explains. “Then straighten your knees to lift the object and hold the object close to your body.”

Proper Lifting Technique.jpg

The Bottom Line: You Can Live Without Low Back Pain

Low back pain is very common, but that doesn't mean you have to live with it. Don't be a victim of one of the biggest, but most correctable health issues in the world. Try these inexpensive, noninvasive tips and see what works best for you so you can live pain-free and keep doing all the things you love.

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