Lower back strain is about as common an injury as they come: nearly 80 percent of people will experience it at some point in their lives.
There are many ways to injure your lower back: lifting injuries, car accidents, contact sports, normal degeneration and even sleeping awkwardly. Cycling is a common culprit in the sports world, since extended rides place extra strain on the lower lumbar, especially if the saddle isn’t angled properly. (Well noted: the largest proportion of injured cyclists are weekend warriors.)
Symptoms range from a simple backache or weakness, to numbness and tingling down the leg from nerve damage. In severe cases, loss of control over the bowels, bladder, or legs can occur.
Althought the injury is virtually ubiquitous, the medical field is somewhat at odds with itself about the correct mode of treatment, according to Bill Temes, a spinal orthopedics specialist at Therapeutic Associates in Portland, Oregon.
“Only about seven percent of people get referred for therapy," Temes said. "Instead, doctors opt for medication."
This approach has its drawbacks, said Temes: "Even though physicians often think that [patients] do get better, many patients go on having pain for months and even years.”
Temes recommends that if the pain you’re experiencing is new—particularly if there’s no obvious precipitating event—you should see a specialist as soon as possible since the injury can have further impacts down the line.
“Most of the time, when [people] have acute back episodes, it’s the first of repeated episodes they’ll have later in life,” Temes said. “Going to get a massage or heat treatment—things like that—are not very effective. …It’s a mechanical problem most of the time and needs to be treated with mechanical means.”
You can take prevention into your own hands. The Mayo Clinic advises working physical activity into your daily routine, paying attention to your posture, lifting properly and modifying repetitive tasks.
Here are some exercises to get you on the road to a happy lower back, via ScienceBasedMedicine.org: To start, get on your hands and knees and slowly arch your back up and down. Then move into bridge pose, building to 12 to 15 repetitions of the exercise. Once this becomes comfortable, work towards plank pose.