Lower back pain, a common cause for visits to the doctor is experienced by most individuals in their lifetimes, between the ages 30 and 50. The lower back, also called the lumbar region, starts below the ribcage. With age, the lower back or the lumbar region becomes more prone to injury because the amount of fluid between the vertebrae in the spine reduces. This leads to increased irritation of the discs in the spine. Also, aging causes loss of some muscle tone.
Causes of lower back pain
In most cases, the type of lower back pain is nonspecific. This means that the pain is not due to a serious ailment or serious back problem, and the exact cause of the pain is not clear. The two most common contributors to lower back aches and discomfort are a weak core (broadly considered to be the torso) and the shortening of hip muscles from sitting all day. Usually, the person suffering from nonspecific pain is advised to keep active and continue doing normal activities. With painkillers, the pain eases and in most cases, the lower back pain disappears within six weeks. Sometimes the pain may recur. Further treatment is required only if chronic pain develops.
Here is a list of several causes of lower back pain, ranging from excess activity to congenital conditions to cancer:
●Strains – Excess activity can cause stretching or tearing of the lower back muscles and ligaments. Such strains result in pain and stiffness in the lower back, as well as muscle spasms. Rest and physical therapy are generally advised for the cure.
●Spinal Disc Injury – With age, the risk of a herniated spinal disc increases. A herniated disc is also known as a slipped or ruptured disc. It usually occurs after lifting something suddenly or twisting the back suddenly. The sudden action pushes the cartilage surrounding the disc against the spinal cord or the nerve root (this exits from the spinal cord and through the vertebral bones). As a result, the cushion sitting between the spinal vertebrae extends outside its normal position and the nerve root gets compressed.
●Sciatica – Sciatica occurs due to excess pressure exerted on the sciatic nerve by a herniated disc. The sciatic nerve connects the spine to the legs, hence sciatica can cause pain in the legs and the feet. Sciatic pain usually feels like burning or pins and needles.
●Spinal Stenosis – The symptoms of spinal stenosis are numbness, cramping, and weakness felt anywhere in the body. Such symptoms worsen in standing or walking positions. Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal column narrows, exerting pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerves. The narrowing of the spinal column is most commonly because of deterioration and loss of function of the discs between the vertebrae.
●Abnormal Spine Curvatures: Congenital (present from birth) conditions like scoliosis, kyphosis, and lordosis cause abnormal curvatures in the spine. These conditions are usually first detected when patients are children and teenagers. The muscles, tendons, ligaments, and vertebrae are subjected to pressure by abnormal spine curvatures, causing pain and poor posture.
●Other Conditions – There are several other conditions that cause lower back pain. These conditions include –
- Arthritis- Painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints.
- Fibromyalgia – long-term pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, and tendons
- Spondylitis – inflammation of the joints between the spinal bones
- Spondylosis – loss of normal spinal structure and function
- Kidney and bladder problems
- Endometriosis, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, and cancer
Lower Back Pain Treatment
Diet and exercise play an important role in lower back pain treatment. What you eat could be contributing to this pain. Similarly, an incorrect method of exercise could overstrain the lower back.
- Food for Thought: Calcium for a Healthy Back – Calcium is known to be the most prominent of bone minerals. It helps to maintain the required level of bone mass throughout the lifespan, and particularly in old age. Thus calcium is vital to maintaining bone health. An anti-inflammatory diet consisting of calcium-rich foods that help you maintain good nutrition is vital to treating lower back pain. Besides, milk, almonds, and Mozzarella cheese, calcium-rich vegetables and fruits list are an absolute must-have in your diet regime because such foods offer the same benefits and can do wonders to alleviate lower back pain.
- Exercise- Yoga has proven to be very safe and effective in lower back pain treatment. Yoga is an ancient scientific methodology aimed at uniting the mind, body, and spirit. This bonding that occurs through yoga brings about not only physical benefits but mental benefits as well. Yoga takes the individual to a level that cannot be reached by modifying one aspect alone. Yoga focuses on three main components, i.e. body posture, breathing, and meditation.
Yogic exercises can be done or practiced daily. They help relieve lower back pain by gently stretching and strengthening the muscles of the lower back and legs and increasing blood circulation. This, in turn, provides healing nutrients to the injured tissues. Yoga provides several healing benefits for various types of back pain. For example, yoga can help by curing injured back muscles, reducing the time required to recover from an injury, preventing re-injury, making it possible to maintain a regular level of daily activities, and avoiding disability.
In fact, certain yoga poses, if practiced regularly, can even prevent lower back pain in the first place. Yoga helps to reduce weight, increases flexibility and core stability corrects posture and improves breathing—all of which are necessary for a healthy back.
Here are 5 yoga poses for preventing or treating lower back pain:
- Supine Twist – This yoga pose involves gently twisting the spine and relieving enormous tension from the back as well as the neck. For doing a supine twist, lie down on your back, relax and let the gravity help you. Then you need to bring your arms to a T-shape on the floor, and to bring your knees towards your chest. By keeping the neck neutral or gazing away from the knees, gradually lower both knees to the left side. In this position, both the shoulders should be touching the floor. In case the top knee (the right knee in this case) lifts too much, you can place a bolster between the knees. Hold the supine twist pose for a duration of one to four minutes. Then repeat the pose on the other side.
- Sphinx Pose – When in a continuously or frequently sitting position, the lower back tends to flatten, which can cause pain. The Sphinx pose is vital to toning the spine and stimulating the sacral-lumbar arch (this is at the bottom of the spine). This yoga pose helps retain the natural curvature of the lower back. Perform the sphinx pose by initially laying on your stomach, and keep your feet hip-width apart. Then bring the elbows under the shoulders, however, you can bring your elbows slightly forward if you feel too much pressure on your lower back. A deeper bend for the sphinx pose is possible by placing a block under the elbows. Hold the sphinx pose for one to three minutes. For coming out of this pose, first, lower your upper body on to the floor. Relax on the floor as long as needed, and then come to a child’s pose (a type of restful pose) for a few breaths.
- Child’s Pose – This is a restful pose, often taken as a resting position in between more difficult yoga poses. Child’s pose is a common beginner’s yoga pose and it takes the pressure off your lower back by giving it a nice stretch. This pose extends and aligns the spine, thus relaxing the lower back.
For performing the child’s pose, kneel on your mat with your knees hip-width apart. Keep your feet together behind you and inhale deeply. Then exhale, laying your torso over your thighs. Lengthen your neck and spine by pulling your ribs away from your tailbone (a small bone at the base of the spine) and pulling the crown of your head away from your shoulders. These actions stretch your lower back effectively. While resting your forehead on the ground and extending your arms out in front of you, hold the child’s pose for one to three minutes.
- Cat and Cow Pose – The “Cat” and “Cow” postures enable effective bending and extension of the spine, promote mobility, and also help relieve any tension in the lower back. They familiarize you with what your neutral spine is, ie. not too arched and not too rounded. Therefore the Cat and Cow yoga pose greatly helps improve posture.
For coming to the “Cat” pose, start on your hands and knees, while keeping your shoulders over your wrists and hips over the knees. Inhale slowly. While exhaling, round your spine and drop your head towards the floor.
For performing the “Cow” pose, inhale and lift your head, chest, and tailbone towards the ceiling as you arch your back.
Practice these postures for one to three minutes.
- Thread The Needle Pose – Tight hips cause lower back pain because, in such a condition, the movement we need tends to come from the back. Stretching the hips and hamstrings provides the body with a better and fuller range of motion. This helps alleviate the lower back pain as well. Thread the needle pose stretches the hips, outer thighs, lower back, and spine.
Begin by laying on the floor and bringing the soles of the feet on the ground. The feet should be hip-distance apart. Then place your right ankle on the left thigh, and keep the foot bent throughout the pose. By taking your right arm in between the space of the legs, and the left arm outside of the left thigh, interlace the fingers behind your knee. Hold this pose for one to three minutes, while keeping the back and shoulders relaxed. Then change sides and repeat the pose.
What to Eat and Drink Before and After Yoga
If you want to obtain the maximum benefits from yoga, it is critical that you fuel your body with the right type and amount of food (proper nutrients) at the right time. For instance, yoga gives you overall body strength, but without protein intake, your muscles will not develop. Hence you will feel weak throughout your practice and daily life.
To get the most out of your yoga practice, it is advisable to follow these “Do’s and Don’t” on what to eat and drink before and after yoga.
- Do eat a small, energy-providing snack like sprouted toast and avocado 60-90 minutes before yoga if you intend to practice it in the evening. Also, make sure you’ve eaten throughout the day. If you have a habit of doing yoga in the mornings, then eat half a banana or a handful of berries at least thirty minutes prior.
- Do drink at least 8 ounces of water 30 minutes before doing yoga. A good option for a quick and easy pre-yoga breakfast is a protein shake – 8 ounces of milk mixed with a scoop of your favorite protein powder, one tablespoon of hemp seeds, half a cup of frozen berries and a handful of fresh spinach. If you don’t have time for a pre-yoga breakfast, then drink a glass of almond milk or juice to provide you with some energy in the form of sugar and calories.
- Don’t eat a large meal before yoga, because, if your stomach is full, the yoga poses will be harder to get into. Also, you risk getting an upset stomach.
- Don’t drink a lot of caffeine just before yoga, because coffee is dehydrating. You need to focus on hydrating your body.
- Do eat a nutritious meal after doing yoga. After a morning session, you could have an omelet with fresh tomatoes and spinach, and also fresh fruit. If you have a craving for sugar, then you could have a bowl of oatmeal with a drizzle of pure maple syrup. Add a handful of blueberries and a dash of cinnamon to this post-yoga meal. After an evening session, you might want to try salmon parcels and sautéed veggies. This would make a delicious dinner of lean protein! This way your muscles repair and grow.
- Do drink 8-16 ounces of coconut water to replenish your body. The rich potassium content of coconut water helps avoid dehydration. This way you do not get a headache or muscle cramps.
- Don’t eat cookies thinking that it is important to consume sugar after doing exercise (insulin helps repair muscles). Cookies contain refined sugars that are unhealthy.
- Don’t indulge in wine or any other alcoholic beverage after your yoga session. Alcohol rapidly intoxicates the already dehydrated body, and you are most likely to suffer from a headache and some jitters.
Jessica is an avid reader who enjoys getting lost in the world of books. Holding on to her passion for fitness, She Believes that a healthy diet is a key to healthy living.
Updated: 22 April 2019