Lack of movement and obesity trigger back pain that, in severe cases, warrants surgery.
There has been an increase in lumbago due to sedentary lifestyles and obesity as a result of the new protocol of “you’re better off staying at home”.
This is according to Luis Muñiz Luna, director of the Health Education Division at the Lomas Verdes Hospital of Traumatology and Orthopedics, which is part of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS).
“I’ve had more cases of lumbago in the clinic and working from home has aggravated the situation. Before, people used to burn more calories going to the office. Now, they do everything from home,” says the expert in an interview with Tec Review.
According to Muñiz Luna, while people were sent home from their jobs due to risk factors arising from the pandemic because they were overweight or had some other disease, they’ve gained weight after being shut in over this period, and those who weren’t overweight now are.
“In this time, when people have had an opportunity to improve their health to cope with the pandemic, it’s worsened instead of getting better. They haven’t lost weight, and they’ve reduced their activity, which has increased the risk they were supposed to be reducing by going home,” says this specialist, who is also director of the Spinal Cord Service at the IMSS Lomas Verdes Hospital.
The term lumbago comes from Late Latin lumbago, which in turn comes from the Latin word lumbus, meaning loin. So, lumbago refers to any ache or pain in the loin, or lumbar region, especially the lower back area.
“Lumbago manifests at a higher rate in overweight patients. However, there is also a group of people who are within their weight parameters, who are thin, and who also present this type of discomfort,” says Muñiz.
According to Muñiz, most people are going to have pain in the lumbar region at least once in their life, and that speaks to the high prevalence of this pathology. There isn’t a problem when it happens sporadically, but there is when the pain persists over time.
“So many people live with this type of pain for a long time until a more serious or disabling situation is triggered that requires a different evaluation,” he says.
Lumbago is common and, fortunately, most of the time it has to do with a mechanopostural problem. This means that bad posture habits develop the conditions for muscle contractions that cause inflammation and eventually pain.
“Right in that area of the back, your muscles are the only support for your spine. The thoracic spine has ribs around it, and that gives it greater stability, but the lumbar region below has only muscles, including along the sides, i.e. it doesn’t have any ribs. It’s a segment of the spine with one of the largest mobility arcs, and that’s because it has no other support but muscles,” Muñiz explains.
When the muscles lose mass or deteriorate due to a lack of exercise, being overweight, or having a sedentary lifestyle, that area is going to have a harder time doing its daily activity. That’s what causes muscle contractions, because the muscles weaken.
“It becomes a vicious cycle: pain causes people to stop doing activity, and lack of activity leads to muscles atrophying.”
“You should be aware of movement and posture. We all have bad posture when we sit down or work. The ergonomics of the back should always be supported by a backrest if we’re seated,” says this IMSS expert.
That’s why it’s recommended that you use a high backrest for desk activities and that you actually rest your back on the backrest. This is because most people often sit in front of the chair without their back touching the backrest. This creates more effort at the waist.
“You have to strengthen the muscles that support your back, which include your abdominal muscles, through physical exercise,” Muñiz recommends.
According to this IMSS director, the recommendation is to see a specialist when the pain is recurrent and results in periods of disability. When the pain is not just muscular in origin, when it’s already persistent and spreads into the legs, it’s certainly because other structures such as intervertebral discs or nerve roots are becoming damaged.
“In such cases, it’s worth getting the assessment of a specialist to determine whether it’s feasible to modify the treatment. In mild cases, you can continue with an exercise program and anti-inflammatory drugs in order to restore muscle capacity, but surgery may be necessary in severe cases,” he concludes.