Most of us have wondered what caused our episode of back pain in hopes that we may prevent it in the future. In fact, it is one of the most common questions I am asked and one of the most common search terms relating to back pain on the internet.
The New Research
Lucky for us, a group of researchers sought to answer this question, and their findings were recently published in Spine. The group was led by Dr. Pradeep Suri, MD and colleagues out of Seattle, Washington. They followed 48 patients with low back pain for a 6 week period after seeing their doctor. During this time, the patients filled out surveys about whether their low back pain had flared (which they defined as an increase of pain for 2 hours) and which activities or feelings occurred just before that flare-up. They looked specifically at things like lifting heavy objects, participating in physical therapy, sitting, stress, and depression.
At the end of the study, 30 of the 48 people reported having a flare-up. The only activity related to a flare-up was…(drumroll please)…prolonged sitting (>6 hours)!
Long periods of time spent sitting was related to a 4 times greater risk of having a flare-up when compared to not sitting for long periods. Stress and depression together were related to an increase in back pain, but neither one on its own. Physical therapy was actually related to a lower chance of having a flare-up of low back pain and physical activity (including heavy lifting) didn’t increase the chances of a flare-up.
The authors concluded that physical therapy helped to prevent flare-ups and physical activity in general didn’t increase the chances of a flare-up. This means it’s safe to engage in high levels of exercise (even weight lifting) without an increase in your chances of back pain. On the other hand, things like prolonged sitting, stress, and depression increased the chance of a flare-up and it might make sense to avoid these things (or in the case of stress/depression, directly address it) when possible.
To learn more about your low back pain and how to prevent it, click on the button below to speak with a physical therapist directly.