Phoenix Ignition Fitness Company

Fitness By the Fire: The causes of lower back pain and how to prevent it.

by Ron Kennedy • December 12, 2016
In all the years of experience working as a fitness professional, the affliction that is mentioned most during an initial consultation with a prospective client is lower back pain. Few exercises (when done incorrectly) cause more detriment to the lower back, it is the muscle group that is mostly effected by excess weight, and it is the muscle that is one of the most difficult to avoid continuous discomfort when pulled or strained. When working with our clients, core stability and lower back strengthening movement is typically the first focus of every exercise session. When running short on time, the last thing that should be neglected is lower back conditioning, hence our program design to always work in progression during a session. To make matters worse, when dealing with physical anxiety caused from day to day stress, the lower back takes on large amounts of tension in addition to the neck and shoulder area. The lower back can simply not be ignored, and with proper form focused exercise and taking steps to avoid unnecessary strain, the discomfort that millions deal with daily can be greatly reduced, if not completely eliminated.

To better understand what “to do and not do”, lets first identify the causes for lower back pain. Discomfort in the low back can be a result of conditions affecting the bony lumbar spine, discs between the vertebrae, ligaments around the spine and discs, spinal cord and nerves, muscles of the low back, internal organs of the pelvis and abdomen, and the skin covering the lumbar area. Most back pain can be categorized into one of four types. Sciatica, occurs when nerves in the spinal column are pinched. Spinal stenosis where the open spaces in the spine narrow, which can also put pressure on spinal nerves. General infections and diseases such as fiber myalgia or Ankylosing spondylitis which is a type of arthritis that causes chronic inflammation of the spine. Yet what is shocking is that about 90% of all causes for lower back pain is labeled "common nonspecific back pain". Which generally means doctors and scientists don’t know what is causing the discomfort… go figure.

Twisting or lifting (especially with improper exercise) a heavy load the wrong way can sprain or strain the muscles and ligaments in the back, causing acute back pain. In addition, the cushiony discs between the backbones, or vertebrae, tend to disintegrate with age, reducing how much shock absorption they can provide, though doctors don't agree on how much this causes back pain. Smoking, being physically inactive and neglecting good fitness habits or being overweight can all increase the risks of back pain. People with a great deal of psychological distress due to a stressful work environment or poor social support also tend to feel more chronic back pain.

Cause prevention is obviously very important to reducing back pain. Though if that ship has already set sail, what can be done to properly and quickly relieve that constant tension?
You probably saw this coming… but yes... exercise is one of the most effective ways to ease back pain. Even simple exercises like walking can be very helpful. It gets you out of a sitting posture and puts the body in a neutral, upright position. Some versions of exercise do demand more tension on the lower back. Tennis, for example, keeps the player in a constant position of tension for the lower back in anticipation of where the ball will make contact. Also, the twisting of the torso to react quickly to how the ball is returned is a major contributor to straining the lower back. Several hobbies also can be over-done with good intentions. Gardening is a very notorious offender since the body is bent over for prolonged periods of time forcing the lower back to compensate and balance the weight of the torso in unnatural positions. Core stability exercises are more effective than most pain medications.

Correct posture is a simple but very important way to keep the many intricate structures in the back and spine healthy. It is much more than cosmetic and integral for proper fitness execution. Good posture and back support are critical to reducing the incidence and levels of back pain and neck pain. Back support is especially important for patients who spend many hours sitting in an office chair or standing throughout the day. Because people find themselves in several positions throughout the day (sitting, standing, bending, stooping, and lying down) it's important to learn how to attain and keep correct posture in each position for good back support, which will result in less back pain. When moving from one position to another, the ideal situation is that one's posture is adjusted smoothly and fluidly. After initial correction of bad posture habits, these movements tend to become automatic and require very little effort to maintain.

A clean protein and plant-based diet that includes such things as flax and chia seeds, is very good to avoid inflammation, especially when eaten in combination with omega 3-rich cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, black cod, tuna, and trout. Olive oil, green tea, and brightly colored fruits and vegetables have all been shown to reduce inflammation in cartilage in the spinal column, which helps to control back pain and stiffness. When eating vegetables, think the greener the better. There is also research that shows certain foods should be avoided. “Nightshade vegetables” such as (tomatoes, eggplant, white potatoes, and peppers supposedly increase inflammation in the lower back when there is a potential for continual pain. Processed foods, fast foods, and saturated fats. All of these foods fuel inflammations. This includes white bread, pasta, rice, sugary drinks and snacks, fried foods, and anything with partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients.