Fighting Nagging Back Pain

By: Mike Timko

Low back pain (LBP), or issues related to a sore, stiff or aching back, affects many people.

As people age, it’s not uncommon to experience on-again, off-again difficulties related to LBP. Next to the common cold, LBP is the second most common reason for individuals to visit a medical professional.

This begs the question, “How can I exert some control over my LBP?” Fortunately, there are many options to consider.

Postural habits and environmental or ergonomic factors associated with people’s jobs and daily routines can influence LBP. Repetitive posturing or weight-bearing stresses, poorly positioned work stations and frequent lifting and bending tasks all have been associated with recurrent onsets of the condition. Modifying a home or work environment with something like a new office chair or standing work station and reorganizing the sequences of tasks throughout the day can help reduce pain.

Waking up with a sore and stiff back can be influenced by the person’s mattress. While there is no single ideal type of sleeping surface, many people suffering from LBP are sleeping on mattresses that are over 15 years old. Finding the right combination of comfort and support can be a good investment in your back health.

There is no such thing as a perfect set of exercises for individuals with LBP. However, developing a daily back exercise program featuring range-of-motion activities, gentle stretching and trunk-muscle endurance exercises can be valuable. Aerobic exercises and general fitness and conditioning activities have been shown to reduce recurrences of LBP episodes and improve overall health.

It’s time to see a qualified health care professional when LBP causes persistent difficulty and interferes with daily life. A well-trained physical therapist who specializes in LBP can provide strategies to improve a person’s well-being.

In general, LBP is not something that people have to learn to live with on a daily basis. Help can be as close as a change in posture, an upgraded mattress or a visit to a physical therapist.

Mike Timko is assistant professor and director of post-professional musculoskeletal education for the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Therapy.