Lower back pain, hellish lower back pain. According to the World Health Organization, it affected 619 million people around the world in 2020, with that number predicted to rise to 843 million by 2050. If you’ve suffered from it yourself, you’ll know it’s the kind of silent pain that can impact every moment of your day. Complaining about having a “bad back” might seem like par for the course after a certain age, but what exactly can we do to tackle it?
What are common causes of lower back pain?
“Back pain can stem from various factors, including biomechanical and lifestyle choices,” explains Florence Penny, a consultant musculoskeletal physiotherapist and the founder of Flow Physio London. “More often than not, back pain is caused by a strain or pain in the muscles and ligaments in the lower back, either due to overactivity or poor form in the gym—or muscle imbalances associated with desk work and reduced movement throughout the day.”
The lower back, she says, is a matrix of interconnecting bones, joints, nerves, ligaments, and muscles, all of which work together to provide support and mobility. But, due to the complexity of those components, the lower back is an area susceptible to injury and pain. So if you’re a gym bunny, incorrect or forceful movements that strain the muscles’ capacity may be to blame. If you’re someone with poor posture who sits curved like a shrimp (you’ve seen the meme) in a chair that’s not fit for purpose at work all day, that could be behind your back pain.
Weak core muscles are also common culprits. When our core is weak, it is often the “result of a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise, improper workout techniques, or sticking to the same exercise routine without diversity,” says Penny. “An exercise program needs to be diversified regularly to continue to challenge the body.” She notes that most of us tend to avoid doing exercises that we find difficult, but it’s exactly those types of movement that we should be focusing on. If you find a move tricky, chances are you need to be doing more of it.
Other causes include age-related changes, such as reduced muscle mass and decreased bone density, with the effect being more pronounced in women due to declining estrogen levels during the perimenopause. Not to mention emotional stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which “can contribute to muscle tension, altered pain perception, and ineffective coping mechanisms, which can worsen or lead to back pain.”
How to deal with lower back pain
When lower back pain spasms strike and it’s difficult to move, Penny has a three-step method you should try: