Why Do I Have Back Pain?

4 min read  |  August 10, 2023  | 
Disponible en Español |

Low back pain is one of the most common forms of pain worldwide. Around 80% of the population will have low back pain at some point in their lives. 

The overall impact of low back pain on the U.S. economy annually in lost wages and productivity is between $100 and $200 billion. 

Common causes of low back pain

Low back pain can be a symptom of a wide variety of conditions. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) says that injuries, fractures, sprains, strains, sciatica, osteoarthritis, and scoliosis can all contribute to this type of ache. What’s often frustrating, says Dr. Nicole Ramos, PT, DPT, a physical therapist with the University of Miami Health System, is that the source of many forms of low back pain can be challenging to identify.

“One of the things we know for sure is that back pain is multifactorial,” she says. 

Several things may be connected to the incidence and prevalence of back pain. 

They include:

  • Socioeconomic factors like occupation or income
  • Psychological factors such as stress or mental health
  • Lifestyle factors such as postural habits, exercise habits or a lack thereof 
  • Pathophysiological factors such as osteoarthritis, bone spurs, or spinal stenosis
  • Mechanical dysfunctions like herniated discs, muscle strains, etc. 

“Prolonged and excessive sitting has been strongly correlated to the onset of back pain,” she says.

How can I prevent back pain?

The good news is that lifestyle factors can reduce and even prevent back pain. 

Maintain good posture: 

Sitting at a desk with poor posture or using poor form as you lift or twist your body are all consistent contributors to low back pain. Sitting at a desk with proper posture or lifting with your legs rather than your back are helpful steps. 

Stay strong: 

Ramos says that regular activity and movement are crucial steps. 

“It sounds so cliché, but your best bet is to maintain a certain level of activity or fitness throughout your lifespan,” she says. “Pick up an activity like yoga and do it once or twice a week. There are numerous randomized controlled trials, the gold standard in research, showing that yoga can be an effective way to reduce or eliminate back pain.” 

Keep moving: 

For desk-dwellers at work, getting up and moving is also important for preventing back pain over time. 

“Get into the habit of standing up at least once per hour,” says Ramos. 

Pillows affect back pain

When it comes to managing minor back pain and keeping it in check, Ramos says many people underestimate the impact of your sleeping position.

Using good quality pillows to sleep in comfortable and supported positions is key. For example, side sleepers often benefit from a pillow between their knees and sufficient pillow cushion under their head to keep the neck out of a side-bent position.

The most critical factor is to have your body in a comfortable position without excessive flexion or extension of the spine.

Physical therapy can help

While minor back pain is all too common, people need to recognize when to seek out medical attention for their pain. 

Any back pain that affects function or movement for a day or two is worth visiting a physical therapist before it worsens. 

“The research backs this up. People who receive physical therapy for back pain first incur less health care costs than those who opt for injections or surgery first,” she says.

“Additionally, physical therapists are trained in differential diagnosis. If your back pain is not mechanical, we will be able to assess when to refer you back to your physician for further investigation.” 

Of course, you need medical attention if the back pain is sharp or severe or when at-home treatments or exercises alone are not improving the situation. 

Shooting pain, active muscle spasms, and/or an inability to stand or walk— these are instances where you might benefit from some pharmaceutical management to address the acute pain in addition to physical therapy.

– Dr. Nicole Ramos, PT, DPT 

By working with a physical therapist, you can do your best to alleviate pain through non-pharmaceutical or surgical means. If more attention is needed, your physical therapist can help you recognize the signs and provide a referral to a trusted provider. 

Wyatt Myers is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.

Originally published on: September 30, 2022

Tags: chronic low back pain, diagnose and treat, heavy lifting, physical therapists work, physical therapy in Miami, spinal cord, treat back pain

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