Living with Low Back Pain

Many people are living with low back pain caused by a work injury or a repetitive motion injury. Applying ice and stretching are ways to alleviate the pain but preventing it in the first place is even more important. Taking breaks during the day to walk around, maintaining proper posture and using a standing desk are all ways to help prevent low back pain.

If someone is experiencing low back pain at home, what should they do to find relief?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah. Great question, Liz. It all depends on the type of pain that you’re experiencing, but if it’s a new pain and it’s acute pain, you really want to follow the RICE acronym really.

R stands for rest. For example, you want to try and get off your feet. You want to try to sit in a reclined position, take some of the stress load out of your low back.

I is for ice. You want to try and calm down as much inflammation as possible because inflammation creates limited range of motion, which creates a compensatory issue. You want to try and find an ice pack, place it on the area in the low back that’s essentially giving you issues, for 20 minutes. Take it off for an hour. Reapply as many times as you need.

C stands for compression. If you have any sort of a SI belt or a waist belt, you want to try and compress the area. That’s going to stabilize it.

E is not really relevant for our lower back. It stands for elevation, but if you’re at home and it’s a new incident, you were bending over and you were picking something up, I’d try and follow that acronym as closely as possible.

If someone finds that their lower back pain is occurring at work, at what point could this be considered a Workers’ Compensation case?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Technically, Workers’ Compensation is an injury on the job or an injury that was caused from your working day. If you’re an office worker and you’re sitting at your desk and you have low back pain, that’s not really going to constitute what you’d call a Workers’ Comp case, because you obviously have to sit for a living. Now that said, if you are working for American Airlines and you have to load and unload people’s baggage and you are bending and twisting and lifting and you hurt your low back, that was caused from the job. And that would certainly classify as a Worker’s Comp case.

What are some helpful tips to help avoid getting low back pain at work? Whether it’s a desk job or a physical job?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah, great question. And if we’re going to simply talk about desk jobs, then a couple of things we should try and do throughout the day. If we’re sitting, you’ve got to sit in good posture. So, ask HR to perform an ergonomic set-up, assessment even, to make sure you’re sitting correctly. If that’s not feasible at work, just jump online, on Pinterest, Google images, YouTube and just check your ergonomic setups. If you’re going to sit for a living, you have to be doing it correctly.

But the biggest thing we find in our office is poor lumbar support, no low back support. So, if you don’t have a good chair at work, simply grab a kitchen towel or a small hand towel, roll it up nice and tight, place it right in the small of your back, and that’s going to keep that good curve into your low back.

Also, you’ve got to start standing. Sitting is the new smoking, and we all sit far too much. So, apply for a standing desk. If you can’t get a standing desk, then essentially you want to try and start standing the last 20 minutes of the hour.

And then lastly, we always encourage postural breaks during work time. So, spend a little bit of time, five minutes in the morning and in the afternoon. Just stretch your low back and do some active exercise to make sure your core and what we call the posterior chain, all the muscles that sit behind us, like your glutes and your hamstrings, make sure they are active.

Now obviously if you’re in more of a manual job, just want to be practicing good habits. So maybe you’re in a factory, in a construction setting, you want to make sure you’re going through work training, and you’re doing the basic things, bending from the knees, not from the low back, not lifting anything too heavy, and just kind of following those workplace guidelines.

Now on the same note, while at home doing chores or moving around the house, to help prevent getting lower back pain, what should people avoid doing?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah, essentially, similar to that question that we’ve just kind of gone over, right? So, you don’t want to do anything repetitive for too long. So, if you’re doing house chores, you want to make sure you take some breaks while doing them, and make sure that you’re not doing it continuously for four or five hours. I think good practice, too, make sure you’re bending from the knees, not from the low back. Make sure if it’s anything over 20-25 pounds, you’ll have assistance with lifting. Be careful lifting something above your head. And just practice those good techniques that we’ve all been taught throughout our working lives.

Are there any stretches or exercises people should be doing regularly to prevent low back pain?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. You want to maintain the health in your low back. Stretching should be an important part of your weekly routine. Having good range of motion in all the tissue and the joints in your low back is imperative. But not only do you have to have good range of motion, it can be achieved through stretching. You also have to have good stability. You want to do some good pelvic floor, some core exercises to make sure that your core switched on. When we have a mobile low back and an active core, then it’s going to create good stability in your hips and your low back. And that should, unless you have some sort of a trauma or an incident of poor lifting, be able to keep your low back in good shape.

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