Spine Health Tips
Many cases of back pain are preventable. Unfortunately, most people don’t worry about their back until it’s already hurting them. That’s why it’s important to start treating your back properly right away. The following are some steps you can take to protect your back.
Having the correct posture while sitting, standing and sleeping is an important part of keeping your back pain free. Many people spend their entire workdays sitting or standing, and too much of either can lead to back pain. However, there are several ways you can guard against this.
While sitting, make sure your lower back is getting enough support. If possible, you should have an ergonomically designed chair for your office. Otherwise, try placing a pillow or rolled up towel behind your lower back to keep you upright and prevent slouching.
If you sit for long periods of time, get up to walk around about every hour, arching your back gently and trying a few simple stretches. Even if you’re driving, stop as often as possible to stretch. Don’t carry bulky items, such as wallets, in your back pockets while you’re sitting as this can place extra stress on the back.
If you stand all day, have a small stool handy to prop up one foot at a time. If possible, lean against a wall or counter.
For your resting hours, buy a mattress with good back support that’s also comfortable for you. Lying on your back with a small pillow under your knees is the ideal sleeping position. If that is uncomfortable, try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees. Sleeping on your stomach places too much stress on your back, but if you must, be sure to place a small pillow underneath your abdomen.
Improper lifting of heavy objects causes many back injuries. People may not lift properly for a long time and realize it only when the back is damaged enough to cause pain.
If you must lift a heavy object, take some time to prepare. First, make sure that you can carry the load–just lift up a corner and test it. Then determine where you are going to move the object and choose the shortest route possible.
A few important tips when lifting or moving a load:
- When bending down, always bend at the knees–never at the waist.
- Keep the object close to your body.
- Don’t twist your body.
- Avoid lifting over your head or over an obstruction.
- When lifting a heavy object below chest level, always tighten your abdomen muscles to place less of the load on your spine.
- When moving a heavy object, push it instead of pulling it.
- Whenever possible, use a cart to carry your luggage.
- If the load is too heavy, ask for help.
Simple stretches throughout the day can help make your back more flexible and strong. Stretches should not be painful or increase your blood pressure. Ask your physician or therapist for stretches to relieve your specific symptoms and increase your flexibility.
Here are some brief stretches that will help relieve pressure on the back, especially if you bend or lift frequently, or sit for long periods of time.
- While standing, place your hands on your lower back and lean backward gently, without tipping your head backward.
- Stretch your hamstrings – those muscles in the back of your thigh that help keep your back mobile. While sitting or lying on your back, bend one leg up and hold your thigh.
Exercising your back muscles can strengthen and protect the muscles, helping to prevent injuries. Abdominal exercises can also help keep your back strong. You can ask your doctor or physical therapist to show you some special back strengthening exercises. While many forms of exercise can be helpful to the back, some sports–such as golf, tennis, racquetball and football–can be harmful if not played properly. These sports place pressure on the spine because they involve frequent twisting, bending or impact.
When playing these sports, be sure to warm up beforehand to get your muscles ready. If you already have back problems, ask your doctor what sports you can play and what special precautions should be taken.
There are several other changes you can make to decrease your risk for back pain:
Lose weight. Since excess weight can pull the spine out of alignment and cause a back injury, it’s important to keep your weight down. Do some aerobic exercises such as bicycling, walking or running to help you lose the excess pounds. It’s also important to maintain a healthy diet that’s high in fruits, grains and vegetables. In addition to causing weight gain, a poor diet can also make your back weaker and more susceptible to injury.
Lower stress. Stress can create muscle tension, causing a loss in flexibility that can lead to back pain. To reduce stress, try exercise, yoga, meditation, getting more sleep or listening to music.
Stop Smoking. Smoking puts you at increased risk for back problems since your blood has trouble delivering oxygen to working tissues, delaying tissue healing, making your back weaker.