Lower back pain is extraordinarily common – many people estimate that nearly one in every ten people around the globe suffer from some form of it. The chief of spine surgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City, Dr. Anders Cohen, claimed that back pain may even be the number one cause of lost work days in the United States
. Regardless of whether you work outside on a farm or sit at a desk, if you haven’t experienced lower back pain yet, chances are you will at some point.
There is a silver lining. Although a lot is still not entirely understood about the causes and proper treatment of back pain, more and more chiropractors, physiologists, and general practitioners are agreeing that a few specific conditions aside
, the vast majority of symptoms are best treated with proper exercise, stretching, and simple adjustments to your daily life, as opposed to surgery. That’s good news for your back and your wallet.
Of the 40 million back pain cases per year in the U.S., around 5 million involve a symptom known as sciatica. Sciatica occurs when something puts too much pressure on the sciatic nerve, which runs down either end of your spine into your legs. This pressure could come from a herniated disc, bad posture, a pregnancy, or even – believe it or not – your wallet. If you carry a thick wallet in your back pocket, sitting on it could aggravate your sciatic nerve by putting too much pressure on the muscles that surround it deep in the buttocks. The result is often an intense pain in the lower back that may radiate all the way down into the legs. And no, this isn’t just the plot of a classic Seinfeld episode
Luckily, sciatic pain can usually be relieved at home with proper treatment. For example, using an ice pack, a heat pad, or between in alternation can often provide relief. Warming and cooling the muscles in your lower back and rear end will relax them, removing pressure from the aggravated nerves underneath. Give it a shot – apply either one for twenty minutes at a time and see what works for you. This simple treatment can be effective, but it is also very temporary. In order to correct some of the more persistent causes of pain, incorporate some simple stretches and exercises into your daily routine. It is important to remember that more often than not, exercise is a better treatment than rest
. Here are some of the best exercises for relieving sciatica – as well as many other common symptoms of lower back pain.The McKenzie Exercises
are an common way that doctors to isolate and diagnose lower back pain. They were designed to extend your back – from your neck to your hamstrings – in order to alleviate symptoms and centralize the pain so that its cause may be identified more easily. Certain McKenzie exercises have become an extremely popular source of relief for sciatic pain. This simple routine takes very little time and effort, and consists of just a few positions that extend, stretch, and relax the muscles in your lower back.
The best way to begin is by lying down flat on your back (1-2 minutes) and take deep breaths to ensure your back is fully relaxed. Lift your legs onto a chair so that you are bent at the waist and knees, but your shins and back stay parallel to the ground. Focus on keeping your lower back relaxed. This is a resting position, so you can hold it as long as you like. Many people find their back is most relaxed if they put a small pillow or folded towel under their lower back to keep it at a slight curve. This is also a great time to use one of those hot or cold packs.
If you need a slightly deeper stretch, try placing both legs vertically against a wall (pictured on the right). To avoid putting too much pressure on your lower back, it is highly recommended that you use a pillow. This will also stretch out your upper hamstrings, which can relieve a lot of tension and stiffness in the lower back. Again, this is a resting position, so hold it until you feel your lower back is relaxed.
Next, roll over so that you are lying face-down completely flat and relax (1-2 minutes).
Align your elbows under your shoulders and lift only your upper body, keeping your groin and lower abdominals firmly on the ground. This position is often referred to in yoga as the sphinx. You should feel a slight stretch in your lower back as you bend. Hold this position (1-2 minutes).
Release slowly and lie flat (10-30 seconds), then repeat (5-10 times).
If you are able, progress on to your hands, still aligned under your shoulders, and lift your entire trunk up while still keeping your waist and legs firmly planted on the ground. You should feel a deep stretch in your abdominals and lower back. Try the same exercise while lifting to this position and holding (1-2 minutes).
Note: Do not attempt to extend to the final position if any sharp pain is felt during the sphinx stretch. Your lower back can be an extremely fragile part of your body, particularly when sciatic symptoms appear. This is why milder forms of yoga-like exercise that focus on your core – such as pilates – make the best routines for people suffering with sciatica and other lower back problems.
After this exercise, stand up slowly and place your hands on the sides of your lower back with thumbs facing forward. Give your back a good bend as you push out your stomach and lean your head and shoulders back so that you are looking up towards the sky. Hold this position (30 seconds) and release back to a normal posture. Repeat this motion a few times, very slowly each time.
This routine should only take you about 15 minutes, and when repeated a couple times throughout the day, should alleviate a lot of the pain in your lower back. Consistency will improve the effectiveness of the exercise, so try to include it in your morning and evening routines.
Unfortunately, sciatica and most other forms of lower back pain are very persistent. Along with the incorporation of these McKenzie exercises into your routine, you’ll probably need to make a few other important changes to your daily life. You can’t treat a problem without addressing it’s source, and these three simple tips do just that. 1. Hydrate constantly.
Not many people realize that dehydration is a very common cause of back problems – particularly herniated discs
. Dehydrated spinal discs shrink, and when they do, they may contract around the sciatic nerve. Find yourself a reusable water bottle and carry it with you wherever you go. 2. Adjust your desk chair and car seat.
Bad sitting posture is an exceedingly common cause of lower back pain. Adjust your desk chair so that you are seated at a 90 degree angle with enough lower back support. It is also important to make sure your seat is at a height where your screen is at eye level. The tension from craning your neck for hours at a time will eventually travel down your spine and into your back.
In the car, bring your seat up and forward so that your lower back is supported. You can find lots of different car seat cushions online that are designed to provide lower back support and pain relief, although in most cases a simple foam wedge will do. 3. Find a new wallet.
If you read this entire article sitting on a fat, Costanza style wallet, get up – slowly, you’ll probably be in a little pain – and throw it in the trash. You may not notice the pressure that a wallet puts on muscles deep in your buttocks, but your sciatic nerve does. Replace your clunky old one for a slim wallet from Big Skinny, the leading producer in ultra slim wallets that chiropractors recommend
. Remember, you can treat back pain all you want, but until you stop it at the source, it will keep coming back. Check out some of the best wallets on the market for preventing back pain here
, or visit the Home Page
. Your back will thank you.