The Low Down on Low Back Pain

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Low Back Pain (LBP) is the leading cause of disability worldwide affecting 1 in every 13 people, according to the World Health Organization. More importantly, LBP is on the rise and expected to increase by 36.4% by the year 2050 with the highest increases projected in Asia and Africa. LBP is defined as any pain located in the area between the lower ribs and the buttocks crease and can be accompanied by other symptoms including muscle spasms, numbness, tingling, burning, and stiffness. Symptoms and severity of LBP vary greatly from person to person and its classification is based on the duration of symptoms.

Acute: LBP symptoms present for less than 6 weeks
Sub-acute: LBP symptoms present for 6-12 weeks
Chronic: LBP symptoms present for more than 12 weeks
Re-current: a return of LBP symptoms after a period of no symptoms

The primary risk factors for LBP include obesity, smoking, and improper body ergonomics, and the risks increase with age. Some of the causes of low back pain include a herniated disc, spinal injuries, muscle strains, arthritis, and sciatica. Awareness and prevention strategies are key in avoiding LBP and preventing recurrences. Using proper body mechanics and postures throughout the day and performing regular physical activity throughout the week can decrease your likelihood of developing LBP. Performing core and low back specific strengthening exercises can also protect your lower back from injury. Relying on lumbar braces, belts, or supports is not advised, as these products can be associated with deconditioning, dependence, and fear of movement.

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If you are currently suffering from low back pain, here are some self-treatment techniques you can try on your own.

  1. Ice vs heat? Ice can help decrease pain and inflammation when there is a recent injury. Heat can decrease muscle tension, pain, and stiffness when there is a chronic issue.
  2. Use Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines to decrease symptoms for short durations.
  3. Avoid bed rest and stay as active as possible. Research shows that even as much as 1 day of bed rest can slow the recovery process.
  4. Modify body positions and activities as needed. The use of pillows, towels, step stools, ergonomic workstations and chairs can be beneficial.
  5. Follow the BLT Rule: Avoid Bending forward, heavy Lifting, and Twisting movements when recovering.
  6. Perform gentle stretches and exercises to increase blood flow to the area and promote healing.
  7. Seek care from a medical professional if symptoms last more than a few days or get worse over time.

Jessica Lott is a Doctor of Physical Therapy living in Taipei since 2021. She is from the United States and has been living and working in Asia since 2014. Prior to living in Taiwan, she lived in Shanghai, China where she worked as a Physical Therapist at Shanghai United Family Hospital and UP Clinic. Jessica has experience treating various conditions and injuries, and works with individuals of all ages. She is passionate about physical health, wellness, and helping people achieve their goals.

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