How to avoid acute low back pain

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How to avoid the 9 most common causes of low back pain

Researchers have identified the 9 most common triggers for causing an episode of acute low back pain and published their results in the Arthritis Care & Research Journal. They found:-

  • Distraction during a task or activity was the greatest risk factor by far – so get yourself prepared and stay focused on the job you need to do!
  • Time – onset was most likely between 7:00am and noon, the authors found that 35.2% reported pain onset between 7:00am and 10:00 am. The highest  association was in the young (20 years old) and the lowest in the elderly (after 60 years).
  •  That risk was substantially increased by a number of other changeable triggers present (see below).
  • People older than 60 years were less at risk from heavy loads than younger participants, perhaps because they have learned how to lift safely or maybe they are stiffer and less likely to ‘go’.

Study co-author and associate professor Dr. Ferreira, PhD said, “The key message is that even brief exposure to heavy loads and awkward postures will drastically increase our chances of developing back pain, challenging the long held belief that people who lift repetitively are more at risk.  Plus being distracted and fatigued during manual tasks will likely increase our risk of having back pain”.

Other acute back pain triggers (in descending order of importance)

  • Distracted during activity
  • Awkward posture
  • Objects not close to body
  • Manual task involving people or animals
  • Unstable, unbalanced, or difficult to grasp
  • Heavy loads
  • Vigorous physical activity only
  • Fatigue
  • Moderate or vigorous physical activity

What was not related to the risk of developing acute low back pain? The researchers found no relationship between any trigger and

  • Habitual participation in physical activity e.g. sports
  • Body mass index (how fat you are)
  • The number of previous LBP episodes
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Sexual activity

Commenting on the study associate professor Dr Mehling said,  “This was an excellent study, carefully and cleverly designed, well-powered, and well-reported by a great team with well-known world experts on the topic of low back pain.  The strongest triggers were postural (how a manual task was done) and inattention towards the task at the moment of the task. The former is not really major news, as back school programs and occupational prevention programs are aware of this. The latter (inattention) sounds trivial but may be a major topic, as present-moment awareness and mindfulness could be preventive measures.”

Dr Mehling suggested that morning hours and younger age may be associated with “a belief that one can do whatever one wants, a sense of having no limits, which with maturation of individuals or sustained back problems may slowly wane.” He also added, “It is very reassuring that sex is not a trigger and that getting older may not be a problem!”

The researchers point out that their findings have major public health implications, highlighting the need for research on programs that modify the triggers. They concluded:  “The burden of disease due to road traffic injury is far less than that for back pain, yet many countries devote considerable resources to controlling behaviours that increase the risk of road crashes.”

Dr Ferreira said, “For the first time, we were able to identify that brief exposure to hazardous activities will increase the risk of developing a sudden episode of moderate to severe back pain, strong enough to lead you to seek care for it.

Until now, back pain was believed to be associated only with repetitive and ongoing exposure to these activities, so our results add important information on the length of exposure. We also add important information on the role of being fatigued and distracted while engaged in physical tasks, as this will dramatically increase our risk of developing back pain.”

If this article or any other in this newsletter raises any questions or queries then please get professional advice from a suitably qualified health professional.

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About the Author:

Derby Chiropractor Ian Reed and co founder of WellBeing Clinics Derby