Back Injury—causes, prevention, recovery

Nine out of ten adults will suffer from a back injury at some point in their life. Back injuries (especially lower back or lumbar spine area) are the second leading cause of adults missing work. Many back pain sufferers can be out of work 1-10 weeks during recovery (if they don’t need surgery). The good news is the majority of back injuries heal with time and following good self-care and without surgery.

What are the Symptoms of Back Injury?

If you have a back injury, it can be next to impossible to go about your regular daily activities because of pain. The pain from back injuries can vary in severity. Some people are unable to move at all, while others have discomfort only during strenuous activity or in certain positions. Back pain is not always just in the back. Pain, numbness, and tingling in the buttocks and legs can also be signs of a back injury.

What Causes a Back Injury?

There are many causes of back injury such as a single traumatic event—a car accident or slip and fall—or cumulative trauma to the back due to obesity or improper exercise or work habits. Many times people don’t know what event or activity caused the back injury. Some back injuries do not become obvious until up to 24 hours after the incident. The most common causes of back injury include:

  • strenuous lifting
  • improperly sitting down or standing up
  • frequently lifting extreme weight or lifting weight too heavy for your physical abilities
  • twisting the body while carrying something, especially if you don’t hold the object close to your body
  • insufficient muscle endurance caused by extreme fatigue
  • lifting a heavy object improperly, such as bending your back instead of your hips
  • overworking the back muscles or poor stretching habits

A person who has suffered a back injury in the past is 50% percent more likely to suffer back pain again in the future. This is often due to nerve damage at the time of initial injury.

Preventing Back Injury

Back injuries commonly happen due to physical activity. However, your health can help prevent or increase your risk of a back injury. Habits you can develop to prevent back injury include:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Exercise and stretch your back muscles often, especially before and after exercise.
  • Monitor your physical activity to avoid over stimulating your back muscles.
  • Manage the stress in your life.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Rest regularly if doing tasks that involve a lot of heavy lifting or repeated lifting.

Recovering from Back Injury

After a back injury it’s important to be proactive in your recovery. Rest is crucial for full recovery. It’s also very important to stay active, and adjust your lifestyle so you can gradually regain the strength and tolerance in your back. If you’re working with a physical therapist, carefully following the recovery plan designed for your abilities will help you to heal more quickly without causing further injury.

Tips for dealing with back injury include:

  • Pain medicine. Talk your your doctor about your pain and its severity your doctor. Pain medicine, anti-inflammatories, and/or steroids may be needed to relieve pain.
  • Stretch regularly. Stretching your back, neck, and legs improves flexibility in the muscles. Stretching helps recovery as well as prevent future back injuries.
  • Strengthen your back. Exercising your back builds tolerance by strengthening your back muscles. A stronger back is able to carry heavier loads and is less likely to be over stimulated when lifting heavy weight on a regular basis.
  • Relax often. One of the most important things your back needs after an injury is rest. Learning ways to rest and relax can lead to a faster recovery.
  • Adapt your environment. Standing up, sitting down and moving about can be very difficult or painful. Make changes to your home or office that will make your day-to-day activity easier for you to do.
  • Continue with life as usual as much as possible.  Make changes to the way you do things rather than what it is that you’re doing.
  • Manage stress. Stress can take a toll on your physical health. To recover quickly you must be healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally. Temporarily eliminate stressful activities or situations in your life.
  • Get help for depression. If you’re depressed because of your limitations caused by a back injury—get help! Talk with your doctor about how you’re feeling. Also, find people that can offer support.

Good Self-care is Key!

Recovering from a back injury is painful, frustrating, and overwhelming at times. Being mentally and physically prepared to make changes in your life can mean a quicker and less painful recovery. Be sure to involve your doctor, partner, and others that can offer support. Taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional needs is the best way to cope and heal from back injury.