5 Tips to Help Prevent and Treat Low Back Pain

When low back pain strikes it can be debilitating. If you’ve dealt with this, you’re not alone. About 80% of people experience this discomfort at least once in their lifetime. That pain can range from a minor nuisance to a major disability. 

When severe pain lingers, you may think about seeking a prescription to help – however, clinical guidelines recommend avoiding these medications as the initial treatment for low back pain. Unfortunately, low back pain continues to be a leading driver of opioid prescriptions in the United States, according to recent data from OptumLabs*, and opioid usage comes with unnecessary risks of addiction and potential complications. 

While you sometimes can’t avoid the aches and pains from your low back, you can try these five preventive steps and evidence-based care methods to help manage your pain and avoid opioid use: 

  1. Stay active
    While some people with low back pain may be tempted to consider bed rest, new recommendations advise limiting that time and instead opting for physical activity and movement. Low impact activities to consider include walking and swimming. You may also try yoga and tai chi, as they’ve been shown to ease moderate to severe low back pain. 
  2. Consider care options 
    The American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends exercise-based therapies as the first line of treatment. If low back pain persists, ACP encourages the use of non-surgical options for initial treatment, including physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs. These self-care and noninvasive care options help 95% of people with low back pain recover after 12 weeks. Muscle relaxants should be secondary options, and imaging (such as an MRI) and surgery should be a last resort. However, certain “red-flag” symptoms, such as fever or loss of bladder and bowel control, may require immediate testing and intervention.

    If you’re a UnitedHealthcare member, you may have more affordable access to non-invasive treatment options, check your insurance policy for availability.
  3. Recognize the risks of digital devices
    Americans spend many hours per day on their smartphones, which can contribute to poor neck posture. This forward-drop to look at your screen may change the natural curvature of your spine, placing added strain on your neck muscles. Instead of tilting your chin down, raise the device to eye level. Avoid tucking your mobile device between your ear and shoulder, and instead use speakerphone or a headset. 
  4. Focus on posture at work
    When standing or sitting at your computer or workstation, make sure your shoulders are in a straight line over your hips and your ears are directly over your shoulders. If you’re working at a computer, consider keeping your hands, wrists and forearms in-line and parallel to the floor to help reduce the risk of back issues.   
  5. Eat a healthier diet
    The bones, muscles, discs and other structures in your back need proper nutrition to support your body. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats may help nourish them – and may reduce inflammation, which can worsen chronic pain. Eating a healthier diet may also help you maintain a healthy weight, which may reduce your risk for back pain. 

Even for people with persistent low back pain that lasts more than two months, only a small percentage will need to have more invasive procedures or surgery. By taking preventive steps – and selecting evidence-based care approaches – you may help improve your chances of a favorable recovery. 

* OptumLabs, 2018 Opioid KPI Metrics