It affects most of us at one time or another – almost half the UK population reported lower back pain lasting for at least 24 hours at one point or another in the year, according to backcare.org.uk – but it’s easy to prevent.
You just need to be aware of the things you can do to strengthen your muscles to help them cope with the pressure they’re under, and also take note of the risky behaviours you have that might trigger the pain.
Work those core muscles
The muscles you want to build aren’t just in your lower back, they are all the other muscles that support those muscles ensuring they don’t have too great a workload - the core muscles.
These stabilise your back, making sure you don’t bend it into potentially damaging positions, and they help spread the workload so that no one muscle groups bears the weight of whatever exercise or activity you’re doing.
So focus on exercises that work your abdominals, pelvic, chest and back muscles.
If you’re heavy in the chest area that can create back pain and even if you’re not, being overweight in general puts excess pressure on your muscles that are working hard to hold you upright.
So if you want to make sure you don’t have back pain, get rid of those excess pounds.
Do it slowly, losing no more than 2 pounds a week, and you’re far more likely to keep it off long-term too.
Deal with your stress
We all have stressors in life, the key is in how you respond to them and treat the symptoms.
By far the best way to reduce stress is to exercise. Head to your local pool for the best possible de-stressing type of exercise – a study conducted by research company Ipsos MORI found that 74% of people who went swimming found it helped release stress and tension.
By far the most common way people injure their lower backs is while lifting heavy objects.
Never bend from the hips to pick something up but always bend your knees first. That way you use your whole back and your leg muscles to lift rather than just your upper body.
Change the way you sleep
An old mattress can cause havoc to your back health. While you’re moving around during the day, changing positions, you might spend several hours in the same position on your bed which means that if your mattress isn’t supporting your spine and head, you’re not giving your body a chance to rest.
If your mattress is older than ten years, get a new one. And look for one that’s not too soft and not too hard – that will give you body the right support.
You can also try sleeping with different pillows (fewer/more/firmer/softer) and sleeping on your back instead of on your side to help your spine lengthen as you sleep.
Put down the handbag
What’s in that huge bag that you lug around everywhere? Your life, probably. Well, it’s time to clear out some of that stuff inside because your handbag could be putting your spine into an awkward position causing back ache.
This happens because without meaning to, you automatically curve your spine and raise your shoulder to hold the bag. If it’s heavy, that effect is obviously a lot greater.
You’d think that sitting down puts less pressure on your back than standing, but the opposite is true.
Make sure you take regular breaks to ease the pressure on your back and try sitting back a little. Not slouching, but leaning back into the chair back to allow it to support your weight.
And make sure there is spine support in the lower-back part of the chair - put a small cushion or rolled up towel there if necessary.
Most of us spend enough time sitting, but if you’re a busy-bee type who’s always on their feet, make sure to take time out to rest your back too. Take time for a bath or rest on the sofa. Being active is great but your body needs time to rest too.
Go for yoga
Research from the University of Washington shows that regular yoga sessions can ease the symptoms of lower back pain more quickly than other exercises such as walking for example.
Why? The researchers theorise that yoga doesn’t just build up core muscle strength through movement, the deep breathing aspect also helps relax and strengthen core body muscles.