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Why do you have lower back pain?

Do you have chronic lower back pain? Your lifestyle may be to blame.

“I see low back pain often in patients who have sedentary jobs, poor posture, weight gain or weak core muscles, as these factors set the foundation for low back issues," says Lacey Hutchinson, D.O., a family medicine physician at Piedmont. “I also see low back pain in people with active jobs who use poor lifting techniques.”

Can exercise make low back pain worse?

While inactivity is a major cause of lower back discomfort, even regular exercisers can develop chronic lower back problems if they don’t prioritize core strength.

“Some people might only do cardio or use poor form when lifting weights,” Dr. Hutchinson explains. “Without proper core strength, they could develop low back pain.”

At-home treatments for lower back pain

If you have minor to moderate lower back pain that has lasted less than two weeks, you can try at-home treatments like:

  • Applying an ice pack for 10 to 20 minutes two to three times throughout the day

  • Taking anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (limit it to 400 milligrams every four to six hours)

  • Lying on a flat surface for a few minutes to relax the back

When to see a doctor for lower back pain

“If you’ve had lower back pain for more than two to four weeks, I recommend checking with your physician so you don’t make things worse,” says Dr. Hutchinson. “It’s important to determine the underlying cause instead of putting a Band-Aid on it. I’ve had patients come in and it turns out it’s an old knee injury that’s causing them to limp, which changed their posture and caused the back pain.”

She recommends contacting your doctor right away if you have:

  • An acute (sudden) back injury, such as from a car accident

  • Trouble with bowel or urinary function

  • Numbness

  • Tingling

  • Pain radiating down your back

Treatment for chronic lower back pain

“If someone has chronic lower back pain, I’ll start by ruling out a selection of conditions using urine testing and lab work,” she says. “If there isn’t an underlying medical condition and the pain appears to be mechanical, I’ll refer them for physical therapy.”

After the patient completes four to six weeks of physical therapy, Dr. Hutchinson will see them for a reevaluation.

“Often, physical therapy is effective at reducing lower back pain,” she says. “However, if they aren’t improving, I will refer them to an orthopedic specialist for a spine evaluation and possible imaging as indicated.”  

How to prevent lower back pain

To prevent lower back pain from developing or recurring, Dr. Hutchinson recommends:

  • Strengthening your core. “It’s important to be mindful of good core strength – yoga and Pilates can be really helpful with strengthening your core,” she says. “I seem to have fewer complaints of back pain in my patients who do regular stretching and core exercises.”

  • Improving your posture. Yoga, weightlifting with proper form and practicing good desk ergonomics can better your posture.

  • Staying active. “If you have a sedentary job, I recommend getting up and walking around frequently throughout the day,” she says.

  • Drinking plenty of water. “When you are dehydrated, you are at higher risk for muscle spasms, which can contribute to back pain,” she says.

Dr. Hutchinson practices at Piedmont Physicians East Paces Buckhead Family Practice, located at 371 East Paces Ferry Road Northeast, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30305. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Hutchinson or one of our other primary care providers. Save time, book online.

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