Why is Back Pain SOOO Common?

Over the course of my 11 years as a Physical Therapist, I have seen hundreds of back pain patients.  Recently, I wrote a FREE Report “Busting 6 Myths About Back Pain!”, (which you can download by clicking HERE).  One question that stuck in my mind while writing it was, why do so many people have back pain?  My job with each patient is to determine what is causing their back pain, whether it is muscle, disc, nerve, etc.  But, why are we seeing it become more common?

To illustrate the problem, here are a few statistics:

  • Over 80% of the population will experience an episode of back pain during their life.
  • Up to 44% of those will have it come back within the first year
  • Up to 85% will have it come back sometime in their life
  • Estimated cost for Low Back Pain is $100-200 Billion every year!
  • It is the leading cause of disability in the US
  • Back Pain is also the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office.
  • Most cases of back pain are NOT caused by something serious like fracture, infection, etc.

When you really step back and look at those, you can see, we have a problem on our hands!  Here are a few reasons I feel we are seeing it more and more.

  1. We Sit TOO Much!If you think about your day, how much time did you spend sitting? As I am writing this, I am sitting on the couch.  We sit at work, in the car, at home watching TV, while eating meals, etc.  It is estimated that we spend 50% or more of our day sitting.  One problem with sitting, and there are many others, is that the muscles in the low back go inactive when put in that position. They do not need to be active to hold us upright, and the more we let them relax, the weaker they get.

    Then, when we aren’t at work, and we need to lay sod in the backyard, we expect these muscles to be as strong as when we were 19 and active.  The result … overloading the muscles resulting in a back injury.I could really go on and on about the problems associated with sitting, but how do we fix them?

    In one recent study, it was found that we cannot totally undo all the negative effects of sitting. Even those who exercised an hour a day still have these negative effects, but things like using a standing desk, taking breaks every 30-45 minutes to move around, and trying to just be more active during the work day, can help.  Also, just being aware of how much you are sitting can help to change habits and get you up off that hind end.

  2. We are getting fatter!This can be a hard topic to bring up with people, and I guess this may not have been the most tactful way of describing it, but more people now are overweight or obese than any other time in our history. A study by the National Health Institute found 35% of adults 20 and older are obese.

    In 1997, that number was only 20%, so we are definitely on an upward trend.The problem with weight gain usually isn’t as much the weight as it indicates a person’s activity level has gone down, and they are not making as healthy of choices.  This lack of activity can definitely cause weakness in the back and back pain can result from that weakness.  The extra weight can also cause more compression at the back, and overload the muscles.We could go into all the reasons for this weight gain in our society, but the bottom line is, if you want to reduce your back pain, you may want to reduce your waist line.

    Of course, there are those with back pain who are not overweight or obese, but it is definitely becoming more common.  (But there is a definite correlation)

  3. We Don’t Strengthen Correctly!80 percent of American adults DO NOT get the recommended MINIMUM of 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise each week. When they do, most are not doing exercise to specifically strengthen the back.  And when they do try to strengthen the back, many are not doing this correctly.A lot of times, we feel like if we exercise, we have to go running or do something like “cardio” and we lack specific strengthening of muscle groups that are weak.

    As we already discussed, sitting causes the back and butt muscles to weaken, and without specific strengthening, they stay that way.  This can lead to back pain during exercise, not to mention knee pain, hip pain, and a pile of other aches and pains I see on a daily basis.There are so many good exercises for the core and hips that can help prevent, as well as treat back pain.

    We need to get more active, and we need to add specific strengthening to that as well.  Don’t just revert to sit ups and crunches (which can actually do more harm) when there are many other options.  If you are having difficulty deciding how to do this, I would be happy to help!

  4. We Don’t Have TIME!It seems like we are so BUSY all the time. We have kids going to soccer and dance, while we try to fit in work and hanging out with friends, all while juggling school activities.  There is so much to do, and only 24 hours a day to do it in (well, 16 if you take out sleep).  I have made the comment more than once that I wish I had an extra 2 hours a day!  It is hard to fit in time for exercise, strengthening, and not sitting as much when we are pulled so many different ways.This is one I don’t have an easy solution for.  The bottom line is we need to make ourselves a priority.

    That means doing those things that help keep us mentally and physically healthy, strong, and active, so we can be ready for all the other things during the day.If we let everything else take priority over our own wellbeing, then eventually, it will catch up to us.  Our muscles will get weak, we will get stressed out, and that will set us up for not only back pain, but other health and mental issues.

    If your back “goes out”, or you develop chronic back pain, how good are you going to be for those kids who need to get to soccer practice on time, or for that girl who needs you to take her to a daddy daughter dance?  We really owe it to those we love to put ourselves and our health first, and then we will be in a position to give them our best.  If you don’t HAVE the time, then you may need to look at your priorities.

As technology continues to make our lives easier, we will find it harder to get off our butts, exercise, lose weight, and take time for ourselves.  The GOOD NEWS is that we can make simple changes in our lives that will make big impacts on our ability to treat and prevent back pain!

I would love to hear your comments and questions on this topic.  Feel free to email me at david@aligntherapyutah.com.  If you are looking for help with your specific back pain, please don’t hesitate to email me, or call my office at 801.980.0860!

You can also download my New FREE Report on “Busting 6 Myths about Back Pain!” Just CLICK HERE for access to it.


David Butler, Physical Therapist
Align Therapy

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