The Acute Repetitive Lumbar Syndrome

A lot of back pain patients state that their pain started ‘out of the blue’ or that they were not doing anything unusual at the time. So why is that? For some it can be due to a repetitive lumbar injury.

Enter the Acute Repetitive Lumbar Syndrome. This can present as weakness, stiffness, pain and joint dysfunction. I happens when a repetitive load eventually ‘breaks’ the spine. This load can be either

  • Static as when you sit for long periods without a break, or
  • Cyclical; such as repetitive bending or lifting at work or a repetitive action during leisure time.

So why do some suffer when others do not? There is no black and white answer to that one. Factors may include history of previous injury or accident, lifestyle including smoking and alcohol consumption, poor postural habits, overweight and so on. A recent study suggests that being overweight in your mid teens is likely to cause wear and changes in the spine by the time you are 21 – so just because you are slim now does not guarantee a healthy spine!

Cyclical loads are the most damaging, especially when done fast and/or many times. Therefore having frequent rest periods when at work or when exercising is essential. Staying active but changing your activity every half an hour can also be helpful.

Examples of this can be:

  • sitting – make sure that get up every 30 minutes. While you are up get yourself a glass of water as staying hydrated is vitally important.
  • If gardening – plan two or three different tasks and change your activity every 30 minutes.
  • In a work or factory setting rotating staff thus allowing them to perform various different jobs during the working day can potentially save many injury sick days.

One thing to make a note of is, that you do not always know when you have overdone it until a few hours after stopping. This is because it takes 2-3 hours for inflammation to develop making the tissues hyperexcitable, painful and stiff.

If you are unfortunate enough to get injured this way then rest is appropriate. No, do not go and lie down and ask to get waited on hand and foot because your chiropractor said so! Rest means performing those common tasks of daily living that can be done without causing further pain. You should only rest from those activities that hurt. Use ice packs for 15 minutes every 3 hours and, if necessary, take some painkillers.

It may be a good idea to see one our chiropractors, so we can get those stiff joints moving again. Because if you allow them to remain stiff the risk of reinjury is that much greater.


Solomonow M, Zhou BH, Lu Y & King KB. Acute repetitive lumbar syndrome: A multi-component insight into the disorder. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies 2012; 16: 134-147.

Takatalo et al, Body mass index is associated with lumbar disc degeneration in young Finnish males: subsample of Northern Finland birth cohort study 1986; BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:87 doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-87

Please feel free to share this story