Up to 80 percent of people experience back pain at some point in their lives. In fact, it’s one of the most common health complaints. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, more than 13 million Americans go to the doctor each year for chronic lower back pain, which is caused by spine stability, strength and flexibility issues. Here’s some more information about chronic lower back pain and some steps you can take to prevent it or to ameliorate your symptoms:

Lower back pain can be caused by various things. Often, it has an obvious cause, such as a car accident or lifting something too heavy while moving. Other times, lower back pain is less obvious. It can be caused by osteoporosis, arthritis, poor posture or a herniated or ruptured disc due to a buildup of strain from bending, twisting or lifting. Less commonly, chronic lower back pain can be due to a tumor or another serious issue, so it’s always best to get your back pain checked out by a doctor, who can refer you to a specialist if need be.

Lower back pain can be expressed in several ways, including muscle ache, the inability to stand up straight, limited range of motion, shooting pain or pain that radiates through the buttocks and down the leg, which is called sciatica. Sciatica is often caused when a disc in the lower back bulges and presses against the nerves that travel down the back of your leg.

If you have no or relatively little back pain, you can do a lot to keep it that way. People with and without back pain can improve or maintain their condition by:

  • Practicing good posture. While sitting and standing, avoid slouching. Keep your head and neck aligned, pull your shoulders back and lift your chest. When standing, do your best to keep your hips, knees and heels aligned.
  • Take up moderate core training. A strong core – including abdominal muscles – can help you more seamlessly maintain good posture and in turn prevent back pain. Some good core exercises include crunches and basic yoga positions.
  • Rest. Don’t overdo it by exercising frequently or lifting things that are too heavy for you. When you do need to lift heavy items, focus on using your buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles – rather than your back muscles – to lift.

If you do have lower back pain, several things can help, including taking an NSAID to reduce inflammation and applying a compress of ice, followed by one of heat, after an injury or a period of back pain. This can reduce swelling and relax your muscles. Other treatment options include:

  • Massage therapy, which can reduce stress and pain related to chronic lower back pain.
  • Physical therapy sessions. A physical therapist can show you exercises and stretches to strengthen muscles and prevent back pain in the future. They will also manipulate and stretch your body to improve range of motion.
  • A back brace, to support your back while sitting at a desk on the job.
  • Epidural steroid shots, which can reduce pain when it is very severe and involves sciatica.
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