I have, from time to time, suffered from painful feelings in my lower back and I try to ensure that this doesn’t happen too often. I have never found out what is behind my problem as it does not seem to be chronic but appears without warning and goes away again suddenly.  However, I do undertake a regular exercise programme which includes gym (with pool exercises) and tai chi exercises and I have also practised yoga in the past. My programme includes many exercises which encourage flexibility of my muscles and joints which is important as I grow older.  I strongly believe that this programme is the reason that the back pain is not chronic and occurs because I may slip sometimes from correct posture or I overdo lifting and carrying when I am doing housework or shopping or even when looking for wild asparagus in the forest!  So, I thought I would look into this a bit further to see how else I could help, not only myself, deal with this problem.

Almost everyone will have low back pain at some point in their lives. It can affect anyone at any age, and the incidence of the complaint is increasing. Disability due to back pain has risen by more than 50% since 1990.  The lower back starts below the ribcage and is called the lumbar region.  Pain here can be very severe but fortunately often gets better on its own.  However, if it doesn’t, good treatment can be found.  Symptoms are usually obvious and can be difficulty in moving normally or inability to stand straight.  They can arise for acute reasons, sports injuries or lifting heavy weights, or, where the pain has lasted for more than three months, are considered chronic and these should certainly be investigated by a qualified health care professional.

There are many reasons why you might suddenly develop low back pain and we will look at a number of causes that are very common. If your job involves lifting, pulling, or anything that twists the spine, it may contribute to back pain.  However, if you sit at a desk all day the risk is there, especially if your chair is uncomfortable or you tend to slouch. Your back supports weight best when you don’t slouch.  This means sitting with good lumbar support for your lower back, shoulders back, with feet resting on a low stool.  When standing, keep your weight evenly balanced on both feet.  Although you may carry your handbag, backpack, or briefcase just over your shoulder, it is the lower back that supports the upper body — including any additional weight you carry. So an overweight bag can strain the lower back, especially if you carry it that way all the time. Overdoing it at the gym or golf course is one of the most common causes of overextended muscles leading to low back pain. You are especially at risk if you tend to be inactive during the working week and then spend hours at the gym or other strenuous activity at the weekend.

Most people experience back pain first when they’re in their 30s. Back pain due to muscle strain will usually get better on its own, but you can take steps to make yourself more comfortable.  A heating pad or warm baths may provide temporary pain relief.  The odds of additional attacks increase with age.  Other reasons your low back may hurt include being overweight, being sedentary or lifting heavy stuff on the job.  When your back hurts, you may not feel like getting out of bed, but if the problem is muscle strain, doctors now recommend that you return to your normal activities as soon as possible. Studies suggest that any more than a day or two of bed rest can actually make the pain worse and may reduce muscle tone and flexibility and delay normal recovery.

More formal treatments are wide-ranging but usually need to involve health care professionals, at least initially.  Massage may relieve chronic low back pain, especially when combined with exercise and stretching.   Research suggests that people who do all 3 are able to move around more easily and have less short term and long term pain.

A rehabilitation program can help you strengthen your muscles and get back to your daily activities. A physical therapist can guide you through stretches, strength exercises, and low-impact cardio that will help you be fitter without straining your back.  Then you can move on to a strength-training exercise programme including flexion and extension exercises which are good for the lower back.  However, these exercises should only be done after proper guidance from a professional adviser as to which exercises are appropriate for you.  This is because the cause of your back pain may mean that some exercises are not for you. Always make sure to consult a properly qualified healthcare professional to make sure which exercises are safe for you.

There’s no sure way to prevent back pain as you age, but there are steps you can take to lower your risk:

  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Make sure your work station position isn’t contributing to your pain.

I look at all these solutions and find that one of the nice ways to help myself is to exercise in the open air, in the fresh clean air of Istria and where I have around me many excellent facilities for rehabilitation and continuing care to help reduce the incidence of my back pain.  You should join me for some holiday treatments!

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