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Why Does My Body Hurt Series: Why Does My Lower Back Hurt?

Why Does My Body Hurt Series: Why Does My Lower Back Hurt?

Upper Back Pain’s possibly even more annoying sister is Lower Back Pain. The nursing profession has one of the highest rates of lower back pain out of any profession, and it is because of the nature of the job. Daily tasks such as bending forward for long periods, over-loading the back while rotating or lifting patients, and frequent repetition of certain movements all contribute to the high rate of lower back pain in nurses.

What Causes Lower Back Pain?

Lower back pain can be the result of a specific injury or it can creep up over time. Two of the most common causes of lower back pain in nurses are muscle strains and ligament sprains. These injuries occur when muscles or ligaments in the back are overstretched, potentially to the point of tearing.

Strains and sprains in the lower back are typically the results of lifting a heavy object (such as a patient), a sudden movement, or poor posture over time. To let a strain or sprain in the lower back heal, it’s important to let your back rest by lying down and avoid further aggravating it.

Lower back pain typically involves a problem with the spinal discs, a joint problem, or nerve irritation. Common causes of lower back pain include:

Lumbar Herniated Disc and Compressed Nerve

The soft, cushiony discs between lumbar vertebrae can break through the outer layer of the spine and cause irritation and inflammation, especially when it interferes with nearby nerves. This leads to severe pain, numbness, and tingling in the back and in the legs or arms.

As with strains and sprains, the best thing to do in this scenario is to rest the affected area. It’s important to consult a doctor with any concerns you may have, especially if pain persists. Beyond this, if you don’t have the ability to take a few rest days, your doctor can give advice on exercises, stretches, and tips for how to prevent your condition from worsening during your daily activities.

Degenerative Disc Disease and Degenerative Joint Disease

This is caused by the aging process and involves the spinal disc becoming weak and unable to resist forces. This leads to tears forming and potential disc herniation.

Degenerative joint disease, on the other hand, comes from the wear-down of the facet joints in addition to the discs. This causes pain, instability, and stenosis (spinal column narrowing). Both of these conditions progress slowly and are related to aging.

Scoliosis and Kyphosis

If you have irregular curvature of the spine, it can become increasingly problematic with the required stresses of the nursing profession. It may be worth it to have a quick spinal x-ray to see if there is an underlying problem. If there is, there are exercises, braces, and stretches that can all help lessen the effects of the imbalance.

How Do I Prevent or Alleviate Lower Back Pain?

Whether you’re trying to reduce pain or prevent it from occurring, rest is important. Rest helps the body recover from the stresses of today before enduring the stresses of tomorrow. If you don’t give your body time to heal, you risk “compiling” the stresses from day to day until your lower back is no longer able to handle it.

Never fear, nurses! We have put together some of our favorite stretches and activities for a lower-back-friendly routine.

Yoga and Pilates

Yoga and pilates are both great gentle exercise routines that strengthen and stretch the lower back muscles. By increasing strength and flexibility, you give your lower back the tools to fight against the stresses of daily tasks and reduce the chance of injury. Even incorporating an at-home video or local class 2-3 times per week can have a lasting effect on your pain levels.

Work on Posture

Try to set reminders in a few places where you will see them, either on your computer, phone or with little sticky notes around your work area. If you start consciously correcting your posture throughout the day, it will strengthen these muscles and help develop muscle memory. Over time, this can significantly improve posture and reduce back pain.

If you spend a lot of time seated, try to have your work surface at a height that encourages a straight spine and put a pillow behind your lower back for back support.

Choose Comfortable Shoes

Comfortable shoes that provide arch support the arches of the foot while providing padding will help to prevent misalignment of the body and putting excess strain on joints. We recommend visiting an orthopedist to get custom insoles for your shoes. Even if your don’t currently feel they are necessary, it is better to take preventative measures than to try to correct problems later on.

Pay Attention to Body Mechanics

It’s no secret that nurses continually lift, push, and pull heavy objects (and patients!). If done incorrectly, this puts unnecessary strain on the lower back and can lead to pain or injuries developing. There are a few things to keep in mind to protect yourself and your back from injury:

  1. Bend at the hips and knees rather than letting the strain be directed into your back. If you feel your back curling and the strain directed to your spine, try to readjust your position or ask for assistance.
  2. Keep your feet at least hip distance apart with the knees slightly bent to give yourself the most stability and a strong foundation.
  3. Keep your body aligned. This includes your neck, back, pelvis, and feet! Try to not apply too much pressure or pulling when you are in a twisted position.

In addition to this, try to pull instead of push whenever you have the opportunity! This will help to reduce the likelihood of lower back injury. The muscles you use to push are typically stronger than the muscles you use to pull.

Check Your Sleep Position

Try to sleep on your side to put the least amount of pressure on your spine. When you sleep on your back or stomach, all of your body’s weight is concentrated directly into the spinal area. If this is uncomfortable for you, experiment with supportive body pillows and mattress pads to find a position that is comfortable and doesn’t feel as if there is pressure on the back.

It’s important to understand the causes and ways to prevent or reduce lower back pain. With this knowledge, we are able to identify potential triggers or hazardous tasks throughout the day and make small adjustments that lead to big results. We know nurses have a tough job even when they feel 100%, so we want to make sure you have all of the tools to look, feel, and move your best throughout the day!




Josie Burridge

Josie Burridge


Josie is a college graduate from the University of Michigan in biomedical engineering. She is currently studying for a graduate degree in public health and is focusing her education on population health sciences and improving health care systems in our communities. She loves the way in which the medical field is constantly evolving as new discoveries are made, and she hopes to one day contribute her own research!


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