Clara Gan, 34, struggles to get out of bed every morning, as her back seems to stiffen when she sleeps at night. “Sitting up is painful, so I have to do that really slowly. The pain lessens as I move around through the day, but the nagging pain is still there,” she says.
Though she’s been coping with the discomfort for the past 8 years, the mum of two kids, aged 5 and 7, has learnt to live with it. “It could have been because I was active in sports when I was younger, or because I’m busy chasing my kids now,” she chuckles.
Everyone suffers at least one episode of lower back pain in their lifetime, notes musculoskeletal physiotherapist Calvin Sim, with 80 per cent dealing with recurring lower back pain. More women also face this problem as compared to men. Referring to a study on the causes of disability that the Singapore health ministry conducted in 2010, Sim notes that lower back pain was listed as one of the top 20 causes of disability in women, but not for men.
Besides poor posture, everyday deeds like wearing high heels and carrying heavy handbags can aggravate lower back issues. Sim adds, “In ladies, contributing factors include frequent bending down to lift or carrying objects wrongly.” New mums, too, often complain of this problem ― activities like babywearing (especially if not done in an ergonomic way), doing household chores, as well as carrying babies and toddlers, heavy strollers, diaper bags (even handbags) can exacerbate the pain.
Continue reading for tips on managing lower back pain!
How to ease your lower back pain
1. Use proper footwear
Avoid wearing heels for long periods of time. Sim explains, “Prolonged walking in high heels changes your standing posture, encouraging you to stand in an over erect posture, putting more strain on your spine.” It’s a good idea to keep a pair of flat shoes in the office that you can change into for use in the office, or when you go for lunch.
2. Watch your posture
Most people are too upright or slouch too much when they stand or sit, putting excessive strain on their muscles or lumbar (lower back) joints, Sim advises, “We should try to stand or sit in a neutral posture, so the strain is shared equally between the joints and muscles.” To achieve this, when you sit or stand, rotate your pelvis as far forward and as far back as possible, then find the middle of these two points. This is the neutral position.
3. Stretch your lower back regularly
This should lessen any tightness or ease any ache in your lower back muscles. Sim recommends this exercise: Each morning, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the bed. Roll your knees from left to right slowly until you can touch the bed with the outside of your knees. Following that, hug your knees to your chest to stretch your lower back. Start with one knee at a time and hold for 15 seconds ― repeat four times on each knee.
You can do another variation of this stretch in the office ― turn your torso to one side while sitting and holding the back rest of your office chair. Hold this stretch for 15 seconds before repeating on the other side. Then, still sitting in your office chair, bend forward to hug your knees.
4. Activate your core
As your core muscles ― these draw muscles towards the spine ― are deep in the abdominal region, activating them can be challenging. You can do so by taking a deep breath and slowly breathing out through your lips while in a neutral position, Sim says. Three quarters into breathing out, start humming “hummmmm” ― this will cause your diaphragm to push the air out of your lungs, activating your core muscles and drawing your belly button towards your spine.
If you have severe back pain, try wearing a compression belt which should help support your lower back as well as alleviate pain till your core muscles heal.
5. Adopt a proper lifting technique
Whether you’re picking up a heavy stroller, or carrying your toddler, always squat down and use your legs to lift the weight. Keep the weight close to your body and avoid bending forward while lifting the heavy object, which would increase the load on your back muscles, or the strain on your spine, says Sim.
However, if you are experiencing severe lower back pain, have difficulty with the exercises mentioned, or if the pain seems to be increasing, do get checked out by a doctor or physiotherapist.