Los Angeles Dodgers’ Matt Kemp knows the answer to the above question all too well. Tightness in his hamstring has indefinitely sidelined him from playing, according to Sports Illustrated’s SI Wire.
Some 60 to 80% of us will have at least mild back pain at some time, with pain levels varying from mild (often posture-related) to life altering and completely debilitating. The most common of these is lower back pain, with nearly everyone experiencing this type of pain at some point. $50 billion a year, in fact, is spent on low back pain treatment.
What causes low back pain?
While almost everyone has low back pain at some point, older people are more likely experience it chronically because as we get older, muscles’ tone and elasticity, and bone strength decrease. As the discs in the back lose fluid and become less flexible, they become less able to cushion the vertebrae, which can lead to injury.
The most common cause for lower back pain is a sprain or strain in the back caused by overstretching, heavy lifting, or any other activity that may cause pressure. If the spine is compressed or strained to a great degree, discs may ultimately rupture or develop an outward bulge. The rupture or bulge can put pressure on the spinal cord nerves (there are more than 50) that control body movement. If these nerves become irritated or compressed, the result is back pain.
Lower back pain can be an indication of bone lesions or muscle or nerve irritation, with most lower back pain the result of injury or trauma. Disc disease, arthritis, disc or joint irritation, viral infection, congenital abnormality, osteoporosis, or other bone diseases can also cause back pain.
- Tight hamstrings
Tight hamstrings (and lack of flexibility in general) can cause low back pain because the natural inward curve of the lower back can be made worse when nerves are compressed and pinched in the area. When the hamstrings are stretched, the lower back’s natural curve decreases while the stretch is being performed. Regular stretching of hamstrings can make them more flexible and in turn remove tension from the natural inward curve of the lower back, thus reducing back pain.
- Scar tissue
If the back does not heal, or does not heal properly, scar tissue may be created which does not have the flexibility or strength of normal tissue. As scar tissue continues to build from injury after injury, the back is weakened even further and more serious injury can result.
Diagnosing low back pain
If you’re experiencing low back pain that hasn’t gone away with rest, over-the-counter pain relieving medications, or if it is particularly severe, see your doctor. He or she will take a thorough medical history and perform a physical exam that will diagnose the cause of the problem and may include further tests such as CT scans, x-rays, or MRIs.
Treating low back pain
Most low back pain can be treated at home, often without even consulting a doctor – although you should certainly do so if your low back pain is chronic or has become worse over time. Home treatments include:
- Over-the-counter medications
Over-the-counter medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen reduce inflammation and pain and restore proper function without any residual effects for most people. If after 72 hours you have no relief, consult a physician.
- Ice and heat
As soon as possible after experiencing low back pain, apply a cold pack or compress to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time, two to three times a day. After three days, switch to treating with heat by using heating pad, heat lamp, or other heat source to relax tense muscles and encourage blood flow. Warm baths may also help.
- Bed rest
Although this was once a standard treatment for back pain, today, doctors recommend that you go on bed rest for no more than 1 to 2 days; resting for longer can actually reduce flexibility and encourage reinjury. Normal activities should be resumed as soon as possible.
One of the best ways to both prevent low back pain altogether and to discourage its reappearance after injury is to exercise. Strengthening both back and abdominal muscles (the “core”) gives your lower back the strength to perform movement without injury.
Stretching that includes all muscle groups related to the lower back, such as the upper back and shoulders, as well as the glutes and hamstrings, can help both alleviate present lower back pain and prevent lower back pain from occurring in the future.
One of the easiest ways to stretch these areas of the body is with the FlexAssist, a device that makes improving and maintaining your flexibility fast, easy – and fun. The FlexAssist allows you to do your own stretches without assistance and in just minutes a day. For more information, visit http://www.theflexassist.com/.