Low back pain—ouch!
Several weeks ago, I was shopping at Macy’s. I bent over to pick up something and BOING, my lower back and glutes seized up! I was bent over in pain and could barely walk. I managed to get to my car and drive home. Feeling sorry for myself, miserable, my big plans for the weekend shot—I was pretty much good for nothing.
This wasn’t my first bout of lower back pain, but this was my first acute episode in several years. What had I learned from previous occurrences? Generally, for me, these painful incidents were preceded by stress and tension.
Low back pain is one of the leading reasons for a visit to a health care provider. More than 80 percent of adults are likely to have an episode of this malady at some point in their life. I didn’t have my first bout until I hit my 50’s—ouch. Until then I didn’t understand why people complained about “low back pain” until I had my first episode. It hurt more than I imagined.
There are many potential contributing factors that bring about this common condition—overweight, sitting all day at work, middle-age, loss of abdominal muscle tone, stress, degenerative changes in your spine, bad posture, and lack of exercise. Our 21st-century sedentary lifestyle creates the perfect storm. It’s muscle tone that keeps us upright. And, as we age, if we don’t pay attention to keeping our core muscles strong, gravity gets its way with us and our poor posture contributes to these lightning strikes.
Ironically, most popular treatments for this ailment don't generally speed up the healing process. It takes several weeks no matter what you do to feel better. Prevention is the best cure. I do 30 minutes of core stretching and strengthening exercises two-three times a week. I have a desk job—so I am a sitting duck for low back pain.
Over the years, my formula for these episodes is acupuncture and visits with a rolfer. Rolfing is a form a deep tissue massage that helps create more space and mobility in your body. It was developed in the 1960’s by Ida Rolf, I find it very helpful. In addition, I I try to walk, stretch, and take it easy. I also make sure to continue my meditation practice. For me, the trigger is always a build-up of tension that I haven’t been addressing. In the more acute phase, I catch up on my movie watching.
Some people may find visiting a chiropractor helpful. Your health care provider may refer you to Physical Therapy (I’ve been there too) to work on releasing those muscles and learning how to stretch and strengthen key muscles.
Nowadays your health care provider is unlikely to prescribe stronger pain medications, especially narcotic analgesics. These medications can mask the feedback that your body wants to give you if you do too much and can, therefore, make matters worse. Bed rest doesn’t seem to help either. It is better to get up and move around.
I was pretty uncomfortable for about a week. But I was confident that I would slowly, much more slowly than I would like, improve. And, I have.
If your pain doesn't go away, you have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arms or legs, fever, problems with balance, loss of bladder or bowel control, or shooting pains—do see your primary care provider! They will know what to do.