Back Pain - Am I At Risk?

Are there risk factors for back pain? And, if there are, what can I do to keep myself healthy and well? Your chiropractor can help answer these questions and more.

One primary risk factor relates to exercise. Everyone has heard, "if you don't use it, you lose it". If you're not exercising regularly, your back muscles are deconditioned and much more susceptible to injury - the strains and sprains we're accustomed to calling "back pain".

Muscles get stronger when they're required to do work. Also exercise helps "train" the soft tissues around a joint - the ligaments and tendons - these supporting structures "learn" how to withstand mechanical stresses and loads without becoming injured. Basically, when you exercise - when you do any kind of exercise - your body gets "smarter" and you're less likely to get those annoying back problems.1

A related risk factor is weak abdominal muscles. When you were a kid, at some point one of your gym teachers probably told you to "suck in your stomach". Actually, it turns out that was pretty good advice. Your abdominal muscles support the muscles of your lower back. If your abdominals are weak or if you're not using them - letting them hang out and droop instead of keeping them activated - your body weight has to be held up by the muscles of your lower back. They're not designed to do that - they're designed to move your spine around. And eventually, these lower back muscles will give way under the excess strain. The result is a very painful lower back injury.

There are many easy-to-do exercises for your abdominal muscles. The key is to actually do them - and do them after you're finished doing the rest of whatever exercises you've scheduled for that day. How often? Three times a week is plenty. Abdominal routines are quick - no more than 10 minutes. And, remember to use your abdominal muscles throughout the day. Imagine your abdominals are being pulled in and lifted up. This is not a "tightening" - your thought should be "activate". Your body will know what to do, once you've started adding consistent abdominal training to your exercise routine.

Risk factors for back pain may also be found in your personal and family medical history.2,3 During your initial visit your chiropractor will ask you about accidents and surgeries you've experienced, and discuss any important elements in your family history. For example, surgery to remove an inflamed galllbladder or appendix or to repair a hernia may result in weakened abdominal muscles. A motor vehicle accident or a fall from a height may have caused injuries that healed with soft tissue scarring.

Learning about potential risk factors and taking appropriate action will help ensure a stronger, more flexible, and healthier lower back.

1Jones MA, et al. Recurrent non-specific low-back pain in adolescents: the role of exercise. Ergonomics 50(10):1680-1688, 2007
2Cherniack M, et al. Clinical and psychological correlates of lumbar motion abnormalities in low back disorders. Spine J 1)4):290-298, 2001
3Plouvier S, et al. Biomechanical strains and low back disorders. Occup Environ Med 2007 (in press)

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