Managing Lower Back Pain

Woman sitting at a desk has lower back pain

It’s something that we’ve probably all felt before – that random sharp pain or twinge in your lower back when doing something completely routine, like sneezing, or taking clothes out of the dryer. With back pain being the second most common reason that people go to the doctor, the physicians at Gaston Medical Partners often diagnose and treat lower back pain. 

The good news is most cases are not a result of something serious, and resolve over time. But living with lower back pain can limit your lifestyle, so understanding the causes and treatment options is important to getting back to your favorite activities. 

Back Pain Common Facts

In addition to being the second most common reason to see the doctor, back pain is the second most common cause of missing work. It’s also the most common cause of disability in those 45 years of age and younger. 

Back strain is the most common cause of lower back pain and average recovery time varies, with most recovering within 12 weeks.

Lower Back Strain Risk Factors

There are many factors that put you at increased risk of developing back pain, including:

  • Obesity
  • Bad posture
  • Sedentary lifestyle (sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time)
  • Smoking
  • Overactivity
  • Age
  • Osteoporosis (a condition where your bones are weak)

How to Reduce Your Back Injury Risk

A healthy lifestyle can also lead to a healthier back. In efforts to avoid back pain, remember:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight will prevent putting additional strain on your back.
  • A balanced diet ensures you’re getting the nutrients your body needs (don’t forget about calcium and vitamin D, to help ward off osteoporosis!) and managing your weight. 
  • Regular exercise (aerobic and strength training) has many benefits to overall health. Any amount is better than none at all, but ideally, you should try for 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (or 75 minutes a week of more intense exercise), including at least two strength training sessions. Having a strong core (muscles in the back, abdomen and sides) helps prevent back pain by supporting the spine.
  • Don’t smoke. Your spine will age faster if you smoke, as the smoke and nicotine can wear down the discs between the vertebrae. You’re also more prone to coughing if you smoke, which can irritate your back.
  • Work on your posture. Your weight should be evenly distributed on both feet when standing, with your head up, hips tucked in and shoulders straight. It’s important to remember not to slouch. When sitting, make sure that your chair provides the proper amount of lower back support, and that both feet can rest comfortably on the floor. Don’t cross your legs! Try to only sit for short periods of time (10 to15 minutes and then get up and move, arching your back to stretch).
  • Lift wisely. Before lifting a heavy object, determine the best plan of action.. Bend at your knees, engage your core and lift with your legs. If something is too heavy for you to lift, do not hesitate to ask for help. 
  • Avoid overactivity. Repetitive motions can lead to muscle soreness. 

Lower Back Pain Treatment Options

Time is usually the best treatment, but it’s hard to be patient when your back is hurting. If you’ve tried to incorporate some of the tips above, and things are not feeling any better, you should turn to your primary care provider to come up with a plan that is best for you. 

Frequent treatment options include over-the-counter medicines (think acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories), rest, physical therapy, or certain exercises, like yoga or pilates. If there is still no improvement, your doctor may order additional tests, such as X-rays to examine the bones, an MRI to examine the soft tissue, or a CT scan to provide more detailed imaging of the bones.

So while lower back pain can be frustrating, feel reassured that it is generally something that resolves on its own. There are, however, ways to help it improve, as well as ways to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. And hopefully, with rest and a treatment plan created in connection with your doctor, you’ll be back to business in no time.