Risk Factors for Back Pain

After almost 20 years of practicing in Merritt as a chiropractor, I have noticed that there are certain risk factors that predispose people to experiencing acute or chronic low back pain. Some of these are avoidable, and some simply are not. Read through each of them below and see which ones apply to you!

Age: It is my experience that the majority of the people that come to my office with acute low back pain are between the ages of 30 to 50. This is the age when most people are still doing heavier physical activity at home or work. It is also the age where the disks between the vertebrae can become damaged and the muscles can become chronically tight. When I say that most of my acute low back pain patients are between the age of 30 to 50, this doesn’t mean that people below or above this age range won’t get back pain. It is just as important for the younger and older people to be proactive and look after their back, as anyone can suffer from a bout of back pain!

Lack of Exercise: I think everyone would agree that back pain is significantly more common in people who are sedentary or not physically fit. I see this in my office every day. The most “at risk” people are weekend warriors who are not physically active all week while they work, and then they go out and push themselves hard on their days off. This could be anything from working around the home, in the yard/garden, or playing sports. People who make moderate physical activity a daily ritual are much less likely to experience back pain from tight muscles/joints and the degeneration of the disks between the vertebrae.

Pregnancy: Although most of the changes that occur in the body during pregnancy are not avoidable, there are things one can do to be proactive to avoid back pain from showing up. Firstly, unless your doctor specifically tells you otherwise, it is important to remain active throughout the pregnancy. Secondly, do not let your diet get out of control. This will lead to weight gain beyond what is normal for a healthy pregnancy. The extra weight will put excess strain on the low back joints. To the surprise of most people who don’t see a chiropractor regularly, conservative or gentle chiropractic treatment of pregnant patients does give these people significant relief.

Weight gain: For those of you who are not pregnant, simply being overweight, obese, or quickly gaining significant amounts of weight will put excess strain on the back, leading to low back pain. Over the long term, being overweight will also cause ongoing degeneration (arthritis) of the spine that is not reversible.

Genetics: This is a debatable topic. I have many patients that claim that they have the same back pain as their dad or mom so the cause must be “genetic”. In most instances, I would disagree. It is more likely that the person has similar back pain to his or her mom or dad because they have the same lifestyle risk factors (ie. obesity, sedentary lifestyle, similar occupation, etc) as their parents.

Occupational risk factors: Performing a job that requires heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling, (particularly when it involves twisting at the same time) can lead to back pain. As well, an inactive or a desk job may also lead to or contribute to the onset of back pain. This is particularly true if you have poor posture or sit every day, especially if you have poor posture or sit all day in a chair with inadequate back support.

Mental health: If someone has existing mental health issues, the resulting anxiety and depression can influence how much he or she dwells on the pain. And, the more one dwells on the pain, the greater the perception of its intensity. This can happen in the reverse as well. If someone is suffering from chronic pain, it can lead to anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

Overloaded backpacks: I have talked about this issue, and how it affects children, in previous articles. It is common knowledge amongst chiropractors that when a child or teen overloads his or her back pack with schoolbooks and other personal items, it can put stress on their neck, shoulders, and low back. For parents to use as a reference, the British Columbia Chiropractic Association recommends that a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 15 to 20 percent of the child’s body weight.

The above points are just some of the most common risk factors that I see as a chiropractor. There are actually many more. To discuss what risk factors may predispose you to experiencing back pain, speak to your local chiropractor.