If you’re lucky, you have never suffered the pain of a sprained or strained lower back. If, in fact, you haven’t, then you’re in the minority because approximately 80% of Americans do at least once in their lifetime. Sort of like a sore thumb reminds you just how often you use it in a day, a sore back lets you know with even the slightest movement of almost any other part of your body. Even simply breathing can cause pain. And no matter what type of work you do, from sitting at a desk typing all day, to moving those desks around, we are all at risk. Prevention is the key and there are a number of things we can do to reduce the possibility of lower back injury and pain.
First, never attempt to lift anything overly heavy or awkward by yourself. Always seek assistance and look for ways to break the load down into smaller parts. Make sure that you have planned ahead for where the load will be going once you do have it lifted. Safe lifting requires the proper form. Use your legs to spare your back, bend at the knees, tighten up your abdominal muscles, keep your back straight, and take care to keep the object being lifted close to your body. Be wary of lifting anything when in an awkward position.
Twisting motions (Feet and hips facing one way while your upper body faces another) need to be carefully monitored and should be eliminated when possible. When heavy weights are involved, twisting should be avoided outright. In all work activities, try to keep twisting motions to a minimum. Pay attention to how you are moving your spine and be aware of any warning signs such as pain or tightness as that may indicate trouble.
Our bodies are comprised of about 70% water. Maintaining hydration, keeps our bodies fluid rather than stiff. Drinking plenty of water enhances the height of our intervertebral disks, allowing them to remain the shock absorbers they are supposed to be. And since water is necessary for nearly every bodily process, it is good to have a generous supply available within it. A good goal is to drink between 6-8, 8 oz glasses daily.
Exercise and activity help to keep the muscles of the back strong. However, the most important muscle group to strengthen in protection of the back are the abdominals. Stretching is also important in your fitness regimen to avoid stiffness and pain. Staying flexible helps to avoid stiff muscles, which are a precursor to injury.
A healthy weight is generally considered an excellent way to prevent all kinds of disease and discomfort. For the back and spine, it helps avoid the constant compression of the discs and aids in the protection from problems with overall posture. Improper posture puts enormous strain on the lower back whether working or not.
Not getting enough sleep can have a profoundly negative effect on our overall health. Adults need approximately 6-8 hours a night. Finding a good sleep position that works for you can help you avoid placing unnecessary strain on your back while you sleep as well. There are some differences of opinion in the health community as to the best sleep positions but sticking with your own comfort levels, while incorporating any advice given by a medical professional, is always a good practice.
For anyone exercising, and we all should be, as well as just prior to more strenuous work activities, warming up is a must. Warming up means 5-10 minutes of light aerobic activity just prior to engaging in the strenuous exercise or work activity. This allows the muscles to acclimatize to more intense activity gradually enough to prevent injury, and ultimately, pain. Opinions differ here but including some stretching during this warm-up time could be beneficial too.
A cool down period after exercise or strenuous work activity is where stretching is highly recommended. Since your muscles are already warm, they are much more receptive to stretching and you will find it less painful as well. Stretching during this time also has benefits in relieving muscle tightness, which is one cause of back pain. Finally, it can help to enhance our spine’s alignment and relieve other joint pain too.
If your job requires long periods of sitting, force yourself to get up from your chair as much as possible to give your back a break. (No pun intended. 😊) Aim for at least 10 minutes out of every hour. Sitting for long periods loads the spine and compresses the disks which can lead to posture problems, one of the leading causes of back and neck pain. Maintain the proper posture while you are sitting by keeping your feet flat on the floor, or on a slightly raised footrest. Keep your knees at the same height as, or slightly lower than your hips. Keep a small gap between the back of the knees and the chair. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your forearms parallel to the floor. Keep your back as straight as possible and supported by the entirety of the back of the chair. Use a cushion, especially in the lower back area, if there are places where your back does not touch. Finally, keep your head up and looking forward to avoid straining the neck.
I truly hope that all of you reading this can avoid any injury affecting your back. If you have ever suffered from some form of back pain, I probably don’t have to convince you that avoiding another bout is desired. If you are lucky enough to have avoided it altogether, let’s keep it that way.
Have a great week, stay alert, and stay safe.