“Ginny” is a 52 year old who comes to my office complaining of back pain. She works at a desk most of the day in front of a computer. Her back pain happened after gardening last month, but hasn’t gone away. She has had occasional bouts with an achy low back on and off for years, but nothing like this. It hurts when she sits for prolonged periods of time making it very difficult to concentrate at work. She is taking Advil for the pain, but is developing stomach problems from the Advil. The pain feels better when she moves around, but because of her job, she can’t really move around that much.
Sound familiar? This is a very common presentation of low back pain. The X-rays you see below is a picture of “Ginny’s” low back, pelvis and hips. The bottom vertebrae in her spine have degenerated. Specifically, the spinal discs have degenerated leading to stress, pressure, inflammation and irritation in and around her spinal nerves. This causes pain. The cause of this degeneration is more than likely, poor posture over time.
Poor Posture Over Time
Poor posture over time creates abnormal pressure in the low back. Specifically, poor posture creates pressure on the lowest vertebrae and discs of the low back. Think of it this way: is it easier to carry a gallon of milk with your arms straight out and fully extended or is it easier to carry that gallon of milk by your side with your arms slightly bent? Obviously, carrying it by your side is better because with your arms by your side, you are using proper leverage and loading to carry that gallon.
When you carry yourself with poor posture, the weight of your upper body creates stress like holding a gallon of milk with extended arms. It is difficult for your spine to maintain your poor posture and over time, your lower spine will degenerate and more than likely will cause you degenerative arthritis in your spinal bones and in your spinal discs. This will most likely result in back pain at some point in your life and may lead to conditions such as degenerative disc disease, sciatica, numbness, tingling and even nerve degeneration.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
One of the most effective ways to prevent low back pain and chronic degeneration to the low back is to simply maintain proper posture. And rarely is it too late! By simply working to improve your posture on a DAILY basis, you are working to prevent and even treat low back pain from manifesting.
A Quick 5 Step Punch List to Prevent Low Back Pain
1. Stand up Straight – Be mindful of your posture as much as you can. Do not allow your shoulder to round forward, pull them back instead. Keep your head up and over your shoulders. Keep your belly in (best you can) by pulling your hips back and tucking them (slight hip flexion).
2. Sit up Straight – Be just as mindful of your posture when you are sitting down. Keep your back straight and line it up as directly over your pelvis as you can. And keep your chin up. Pretend there is a string attached to the top of your head that is lifting you upward.
3. Keep Moving – Stagnation leads to inflammation which leads to pain! Keep your body moving and your body will respond with less aches and pains.
4. Exercise Daily – You don’t have to do a lot, but you have to do something. And do it every day. Think of oiling the “tin man”. You are the tin man! And that oil is exercise. And this does not mean going to the gym and lifting 1,000 pounds. Gentle, consistent movement will prevent inflammation associated with low back pain.
5. See a Low Back Pain Specialist – A specialist in the treatment and prevention of low back pain can quickly determine the nature of your back pain with an xray and examination. Treatment plans can consist of chiropractic, physical therapy, and acupuncture on the conservative side of things. Or if necessary, more interventional approaches can consist of injection therapy to reduce inflammation or even surgery. Of course, always start conservatively. Most low back pain issues, even if they have been chronic for many years, can be remedied with conservative treatment.