10 facts about low back pain — and tips to prevent it

Runner having back flank ache and problem after running and exercise outside in summer

On any morning, how long can you go without using your back? For most of us, the answer is not long, especially when you think through your morning routine.

Whether you’re swinging your legs to the floor to stand up, bending over to turn on the shower, or reaching down to wake a family member, your back is engaged.

“We use our lower backs in nearly every movement, all day long,” says Tyler Waclawski, certified exercise physiologist at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “Sitting up, bending over, lifting, leaning — your core and lower back are activated during all of these movements.”

That kind of constant use makes the back easy to injure, which is one reason low back pain (LBP) is experienced by 80% of people at some point in their lives.

Here are some key facts about low back pain, as well as 5 tips for preventing it.

10 facts about low back pain

  1. Back pain is the #1 cause of disability worldwide, preventing many people from working and participating in daily activities.
  2. 25% of U.S. adults have experienced low back pain in the last 3 months.
  3. Common symptoms of low back pain are stiffness, shooting or radiating pain. However, LBP can also cause numbness or weakness, as well as difficulty walking, standing or balancing — all of which can be signs of a more serious problem.
  4. Back pain is the third most common reason people visit their doctor, behind skin disorders and osteoarthritis.
  5. Short-term back pain (acute) lasts a few days to a few weeks. Chronic back pain lasts for 12 weeks or longer. The majority of back pain is acute and resolves on its own.
  1. Most acute low back pain is mechanical, meaning there’s a disruption in the way the spine, muscle, discs and nerves fit together and move.
  2. If you experience acute low back pain, ice is the best treatment during the first 24-48 hours to reduce inflammation. Only use heat if you’re experiencing chronic lower back pain.
  3. 80% of Americans have experienced back pain due to poor posture.
  1. Pregnancy is a common cause of back pain. As your uterus grows, your center of gravity shifts forward. To keep your balance, you may lean backward, which can put strain on back muscles.
  1. People often experience low back pain for the first time between ages 30 and 50. Back pain is more common with age, as well as in people who are overweight or physically inactive.

5 ways to prevent lower back pain

1. Don’t bend forward at the waist.

Bending at the waist puts pressure on your lower back and increases the likelihood of injury.

2. Squat and lift with your legs.

You’ll engage larger muscle groups and spread pressure throughout your lower body.

3. Warm up.

Taking even two minutes to warm up before doing light activity makes the lower back and trunk region less likely to be injured.

4. Pay attention to your posture.

Bad posture is a common cause of low back pain. Incorporating one posture-improving exercise into your routine can make a huge difference.

5. Strengthen your core.

The best way to prevent low back pain is to strengthen the muscles throughout the core. Try planks, superman or bridge exercises 3 times a week, and stretch once a day.

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Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.

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Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).