Lower Back Pain
Don’t Make it a Partner for Life
A stiff back, muscle cramp and persistent pain become our companions as we age. Typically affecting the lower back, the pain may radiate to the buttocks, legs and feet. Stiffness may hinder free movement; cause a feeling of weakness and, sometimes, numbness or tingling in legs, feet or toes.
The lower back, as the lumbar spine of the spinal section is called, has larger vertebrae to support the weight of the upper body. The bones can also withstand strong forces from the lower back muscles that are attached to the lumbar vertebrae, used when lifting, bending and twisting.
While injuries to the muscle, ligament, nerve and spine are the common causes of low back pain, poor posture and wear and tear also contribute significantly. Arthritis, a degenerative disease, can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves due to a breakdown of the spinal structures.
The good news is that the lower back pain can be treated, mostly with non-surgical methods, though sometimes, surgery may be required.
Some of the reasons for lower back pain are abnormalities in the soft tissues, discs, or vertebrae of the lumbar spine. Overexertion, poor posture, improper way of lifting heavy things, physical stress, and injury may cause strain on muscles and discs, resulting in painful muscle spasms, and tightening of lower back muscles.
Lower back pain could be a result of compressed, pinched, or irritated spinal nerves due to osteoarthritis that causes structural changes in the spine. This could result in bone spurs or abnormal bone overgrowths in the spinal canal or nerve root leading to the narrowing of the spinal canal in a condition called Spinal Stenosis. Spinal structures like ligamentum flavum may get thickened and extend into the spinal canal over time in some degenerative diseases, causing pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
Sciatica is another common reason where the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down to the foot, is compressed or inflamed, causing severe pain. Trauma, spinal conditions, or medical conditions can also trigger Sciatica.
As we age, the intervertebral discs may change or the discs lose water content, becoming shorter and less flexible. This is because of Degenerative Disc Disease, where discs do not get enough blood supply and therefore cannot repair themselves, thus deteriorating faster.
Discs are like the shock absorbers between the vertebrae. Due to degenerative disc diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, the disc is unable to perform its function, causing pain. This can also lead to a herniated disc.
In a herniated disc, the outer disc layer, called the annulus, ruptures because of which the inner content, the nucleus pulposus, comes out and puts pressure on the nerve tissue. A chemical reaction occurs, causing irritation and swelling.
Because of osteoporosis, more bone calcium is absorbed than replaced, which causes vertebral fractures and deterioration. In spondylolisthesis, the weakened vertebrae become misaligned, while because of spondylosis, joints become stiff and painful.
Prevention and Treatment
Most lower back pain symptoms can be treated with painkillers, rest, and exercise.
Exercising regularly by stretching gently and engaging in low-impact activities such as walking will tone up the muscles and prevent their becoming tight. Maintaining a healthy weight is important and makes regular exercising important. Thirdly, prolonged sitting or standing due to work and lifestyle also contributes to lower back pain. Therefore, stretch at frequent intervals to relax the back.
Use proper body mechanics when lifting, sitting, and moving your body to keep the muscles strong.
Bathe in warm water or a take massage to relax stiff and knotted muscles in the back.
As lying on the back can cause discomfort when you are suffering from lower back pain, turn to a side, bend the knees and keep a pillow between your legs. Place a pillow or rolled-up towel beneath your thighs to reduce the pressure on the lower back if you are lying down with your face up. Sleep on a firm surface.
Avoid high-heeled shoes, quit smoking, and avoid nicotine, which causes degeneration of spinal discs and reduces blood flow.
Posture correction is very important for good lower back health. Use a chair that gives back support or use a lumbar pillow. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your knees at the level of your hips. Things you frequently use must be within easy reach to avoid stretching frequently. Your computer monitor should be about an arm’s length away and the screen just a little below eye level.
Diet is a key component for good bone health. Eat nutritious food in the right quantity with enough calcium and phosphorus. Fish, meat, dairy; grains such as wheat, barley, corn and oats; seeds such as kale and legumes; and dark green leafy vegetables, turnip etc. are rich sources of the two minerals. Exposure to the sun is important for Vitamin D, and can be consumed as food too.
A good night’s rest is also important for keeping the back muscles in good shape.