Back Health Survey Discussion: Risk Factors for Low Back Pain

The discussion points here respond to the questions from yesterday’s post, entitled “Back Health Survey.”

1. How frequently do you perform moderate-high intensity exercise? In general, back health is improved as you do regular exercise, especially cardio exercise and strength training. However, it is important not to injure your back during exercise with excessive, early high intensities or uncontrolled bending/twisting.
2. How many hours/day do you sit on most days of the week? Likely, you have minimal control over how much you sit at work, but the rest of your day is yours to stand and walk more! Too much sitting puts your spine in a rounded or flexed position for long periods of time (unless you practice perfect sitting posture with additional lumbar support). Also, sitting does not promote cell growth and circulation as well as standing/walking, so it can lead to spine issues later in life.

3. How often do you perform back strengthening exercise or core strengthening? I recommend you do this at least 2-3x weekly, even if only for 5 or 10 minutes each time. Good back strengthening includes back extensions (backwards bending or arching of the back). Abdominal strengthening is also good (crunches are better for your back than full sit-ups). Core strength exercises of all varieties are great for your spine health, as they strengthen the deep abdominal and spine muscles, which will give natural spine support when you do strenuous daily tasks.
4. What is your usual sitting posture? First, check the chair you sit in to ensure it is ergonomic. Then add a lumbar roll (rolled up towel or round pillow) behind your low back. Sit at the back of the chair, then add your additional lumbar support.
5. What is your present weight status? Extra weight puts more strain on all your joints, including your spine.

6. How many episodes of major low back pain have you had in your lifetime (enough to limit your usual functional activities)? Low back pain comes in repeating episodes, so if you have had several, you likely will have more in the future. But it is not too late to get treatment, of which Physical Therapy can help significantly! Not only will you learn exercises but also things to avoid and how to self-manage your symptoms.

7. How far down did your low back pain symptoms radiate? Symptoms that radiate further down the leg are worse than those in the back only. That is because nerve(s) are being pinched in the spine, causing the symptoms to shoot downward. The key to treatment is to find what eliminates the leg symptoms and moves them more centrally, to the spine (AKA centralization).
8. How did your low back pain resolve? Your risk of future back pain is increased if your prior back pain has never resolved or has become chronic. In this case, you and your medical team have not yet found the ideal treatment plan, so all options should be considered, perhaps multiple times.

9. How often do you practice proper body mechanics during daily activities (such as squatting instead of bending, avoiding twisting, and good lifting techniques)? This may be the single most important factor to decrease your risk of future low back injury! Simply begin to implement body mechanics changes in your daily life. Soon they will become habitual.

10. How much heavy lifting do you regularly perform? Heavy lifting can increase your risk for back pain unless it is always performed correctly (spine straight and using the legs only to do the work of lifting).

11. How often do you participate in high risk sports/activities (such as skiing, skydiving, skateboarding, 4-wheeling, etc)? Trauma obviously can cause major back injuries or worse (becoming paralyzed or even death), so proceed only with extreme caution, and practice utmost safety measures.
12. How often do you perform standing forward bending exercises (such as touching the toes)? This is one of the single worst exercises you could perform. Your spine does not need to be stretched into a forward bent (flexed) position. What is your reason for doing this exercise? If it is for hamstrings stretching, use an alternate technique. If you do this out of habit or from something you learned in your past, change it because this can majorly damage your spine.

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I am a Physical Therapist and Ergonomics Consultant, based out of Columbia, SC. My passion is to write about and speak about pain/injury prevention. I started Pain Talks as a consulting business in 2018.

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