Reducing Low Back Pain
As someone who has had surgery on his lower back three times I’m all for anything that might reduce the risk of low back pain. About 30% of adults suffer from low back in the previous 3 months of a national suvey and about 80% will suffer from low back in their lifetime. Low back pain is the leading cause of work-related disability and has a huge financial impact on health care costs and time loss from the job.
Many episodes of low back resolve in the matter of days with time and rest. But, many patients require physical therapy including therapeutic exercises. But, does staying active and maintaing a healthy weight reduce the chances of getting low back pain? A recent study presented at the North America Spine Society’s annual meeting showed that inactivity and increased BMI are independently linked to higher risk of low back pain.
It seems common sense that exercise and maintaining a healthy weight would reduce the risk of low back pain and there has been anecdotal evidence to support that notion, but this study provides convincing, hard evidence to support what is common sense.
The study looked at data on 6,796 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
BMI and Low Back Pain
People who had a BMI of 25 or less had a risk of low back pain of 2.9% while those overweight (BMI of 26 to 30) had a risk of 5.2%. Those who were obese (BMI of 31 to 35) had a risk of 7.7%, and the morbidly obese (BMI of 36 or greater) had a risk of low back pain of 11.6%.
Reducing Low Back Pain with Physical Activity
For someone overweight less than 20 minutes of moderate activity such as brisk walking or riding a bike reduces the risk of low back pain 32%. The study found that the morbidly obese only spend on average 1.3 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. But, get this. Simply increasing that time by one minute – a single stinking minute – reduces the risk of back pain 38%.
Now, just because you maintain healthy weight and are physically active does not mean you won’t develop low back. I had a BMI of 20 and was very active when I had my first lower back surgery at age 16. Unfortunately, I have had 2 additional spine surgeries and fortunately have done as well as can be expected. While I typically have some low grade pain all the time, the more active I am especially with flexibility exercises the better I feel.