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Staying In Front of Lower Back Problems

Don't be surprised or discouraged if your lower back has been aching up. Nearly all of us will suffer from lower back pain at some point in our life, says Larry Hess, physical therapist and assistant athletic trainer for the Washington Redskins.

"Studies have shown that about 85 percent of the U.S. population will develop lower back pain," said Hess, who is in his fifth season as a Redskins staff member. "Therefore, preventative methods can't be stressed enough.

"Prevention involves developing the right body mechanics. There are proper postural mechanics involved, whether you're lifting a heavy object on the job or merely stooping to pick up your child at home."

It has been estimated that 1.3 billion days a year are lost from work in the United States annually due to lower back problems, according to some studies. Next to upper respiratory conditions, they're the most common cause for a person to miss a day of work.

Risk factors, doctors say, include such obvious ones as heavy manual labor, poor physical fitness and improper postural stress.

Some medical experts stress a relatively new program called the Pilates Method for dealing with lower back pain. The Pilates Method represents a unique approach to exercise that develops body awareness, improving and changing the body's postural and alignment habits and increasing flexibility and ease of movement.

"A core strength and flexibility program can be the best defense against lower back pain," Hess says. "Overall, flexibility and muscle strength are the foundation of a healthy body. They need to be maintained, and in most cases improved, in order to help stay away from an aching lower back."

The most important thing to remember about dealing with lower back problems, according to Mitch Batkin, vice president of training and fitness for Sport & Health Clubs, is that abdominal and lower back muscles work together to support the spine.

Quite often, people develop skeletal or muscular compensations that stem from certain muscles being too tight or too weak. Ultimately, these imbalances can lead to lower back pain, Batkin said.

"First things first: Absolutely check with a medical professional if you experience weakness or numbness in your legs or feet, or if your back pain is worsening on a consistent basis," Batkin said. "In addition, to learn how to perform exercises that can address all aspects of strength and stability, it's best to see a qualified personal trainer."

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