Do you stand on your feet for hours? It might be bad news for your back. If you’re one of those who needs to be on their feet most of the day (like teachers, healthcare professionals, grocery cashiers, security guards, the list goes on), you’re at risk of literally standing a real pain!
Okay, it depends.
A study says that prolonged standing can identify people (with no symptoms) who are more likely to suffer clinical low back pain later in life. And hip abductors are the ones that can help predict the development of low back pain.
What the Study Says
In a recent study in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 40 young asymptomatic adults underwent standing sessions for 2 hours. Prior to 1 of the 2 standing sessions, they performed a fatiguing hip abductor exercise.
The researchers measured the participants’ hip abductor strength and surface electromyography of gluteus medius and tensor fascia latae.
The participants were divided into 2 groups according to their self-reported low back pain – low back pain developing and non-pain developing groups.
The pain developing group had their hip abductors fatigued before the non-pain developing group, with same perceived effort and force losses. The mean power frequency reduces with fatigue were similar between pain groups for all muscles measured after the fatiguing exercise.
When compared to the non-pain developing group, the pain developing group did not recover force losses after standing for 2 hours.
The researchers believed that hip abductor fatiguability may be associated with low back pain.
There’s some evidence in which the hip abductors are likely a causative factor in the low back pain from standing.
Standing for a couple of hours can identify if you’re likely to develop chronic low back pain in the future. Because in the study, the pain-developing subjects had fatiguing characteristics of people suffering from chronic back pain, only without pain present.
In a separate paper written by the same lead researcher, there are some noteworthy facts that can support the study. Here are some of them:
The hip abductor activity plays a role, but it isn’t the only one responsible for the low back pain caused by standing. Gender might also affect the development of low back pain from standing. Males and females have pelvic postural differences, and that pelvic tilt may have a role.
Hip abductor muscle fatigue does not simulate pain in non-pain-developing individuals, but rather simulates the pain-free response in pain-developing participants. Fatigue of a different muscle group may simulate pain responses or result in pain development in non-pain developing people.
The fatiguing characteristics of the hip abductor may also affect the development of chronic low back pain. Pain-developing subjects, while not experiencing chronic pain, showed fatiguing characteristics of people with chronic low back pain. It’s either they’re at higher risk of developing low back pain in the future or that the similar characteristics that limit fatigue resistance also have a role in the development of chronic low back pain.
Prolonged standing isn’t an inherently fatiguing task for the two groups, but those who develop low back pain do not recover from hip abductor fatigue while standing. Both groups had similar force loses after their fatigue protocol. The non-pain developing participants were able to return to control session values by the end of the standing protocol, but their pain developing counterparts did not.
Introducing rest breaks into fatiguing exercise not only helps with endurance and recovery time, but may also alter the mechanism of muscle fatigue. The fatigue indicators associated with longer endurance times reflect that reductions in action potential conduction velocity were the main drivers behind the current fatigue protocol.
Side-lying leg raising exercises can affect hip abductor muscles bilaterally, and can also fatigue trunk-stabilising muscles. The movement compensations during the fatigue protocol matching those from the active hip abduction test and decreases in mean power frequencies in ipsilateral oblique muscles suggest that side-lying hip abduction exercises can fatigue trunk stabilization muscles in addition to the hip abductors.
Increasing your movement in the early stage of prolonged standing might help reduce standing-induced low back pain. So if you’re someone whose job involves standing for long periods, moving more and doing some exercises will help reduce the likeliness of getting low back pain. Or if low back pain already strikes, seeing a physiotherapist will help a lot.
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Viggiani D, Callaghan JP. Hip Abductor Fatigability and Recovery Are Related to the Development of Low Back Pain During Prolonged Standing. J Appl Biomech. 2018 Feb 1;34(1):39-46. doi: 10.1123/jab.2017-0096. Epub 2018 Jan 26.
Daniel Viggiani (2015). The effects of Hip Abductor Fatigue on Low Back Pain Development during Prolonged Standing. UWSpace.