If you’re like millions of other Americans, chances are you take your back for granted. That is until you wake up one morning unable to move or you experience excruciating pain. You may wonder what happened and how it got to be this bad! Experts say the most common reason for back pain is work-related injuries, but other activities at home and play can also be to blame.
Patients often come to me, first for relief and secondly for ways to prevent the pain from coming back. You may be amazed to know that four out of five adults will experience low-back pain at some time in their life and roughly 10 percent will see their condition become chronic. Back problems affect your ability to participate in activities you most enjoy and can interfere with the simplest of tasks.
When you think about it, almost everything you do requires the use of your back. Rarely does a back problem occur because of a single accident; rather it is an accumulation of things that add up over time. Oddly enough how you sleep, sit, what you eat, even how you deal with stress can contribute to back pain. I tell my patients to give their back the respect it deserves and it will return the favor.
There are many causes of back pain that will be discussed in this two part series. To begin I’d like to share a few everyday activities that affect your back and what you can do to prevent injury.
Little Things Can Make A Difference
When it comes to your back everything you do makes a difference, even the things you think might not matter. From the moment you awake in the morning till you crawl into bed at night, you are depending on your back to do its job. But are you doing all you can to help it function at its best?
While Sleeping – Yes, you can injure your back while in bed. If your bed doesn’t offer enough support it could create back stiffness in the morning. Keep in mind that about a third of your life is spent in bed yet most people don’t connect the comfort of their bed with back pain. The most important thing when lying on your mattress is to make sure your spine is aligned correctly. That means your body is straight from your ear to your hip joints regardless of the firmness of the bed. Although the cost of a good orthopedically designed box spring and mattress may seem high, it is well worth the price in the long run.
Waking Up – Due to the static position of your body during sleep and the lack of blood flow to your spine, you are more susceptible to strains and sprains in the morning. Before you even get out of bed start to stretch. This may seem simple but it helps to warm, limber, and lubricate your back. Gently reach both arms over your head then add your legs and point your toes. Hold for 10 seconds, relax, and repeat several times.
Getting Out of Bed – Getting out of bed can be challenging even when your back is in good condition. Use what is called a logroll technique, which puts your body in a position to get out of bed more easily. Lie on your back; roll over onto your side facing the side of the bed you will be getting out on. Bring you knees toward your chest and at the same time use your hands and arms to push your upper body up off the bed. When your upper body rises up let your legs fall slowly off the edge toward the floor. Push yourself up and out of bed by putting your hands on your thighs and extending your back keeping it straight as you rise.
Morning Routine – That first trip to the bathroom can be a hazard for your back. Remember that your back is still waking up and stiff so any little thing can aggravate it. Brushing your teeth or washing your hands can put your low back in a precarious position by bending over the sink. You might think about placing your hand on the countertop to support yourself while engaging in early morning activities.
Other things you do, as part of your morning routine may be just as harmful to your back. Bending down to sit on the toilet or twisting to reach for toilet paper (depending upon its location of course) can lead to strain. What about bending over and turning your spine to put on your socks and shoes? Instead, try bringing your feet up toward your back by placing your heels on the edge of a chair and using a shoehorn to put on your shoes.
Getting In and Out of the Car – Your car is another potential peril for back injury. How you get in and out of your car can be strenuous if you are not conscious of how you are doing it. Rather than twisting your torso to climb in and out, keep this in mind:
- Getting in – turn your back to the open door and sit down in the seat using your arms and legs to lower slowly. Then move your body as a single unit (like a pivot) back toward the steering wheel with the help of your right hand on the steering wheel.
- Getting out – move your seat all the way back, put your right hand on the steering wheel, left hand of the edge of your seat, then pivot entire body toward the open door. Do not twist your spine. Push off with your hands from the seat and keep your back straight.
At Work – Make sure you are sitting in a chair that is ergonomically designed to provide the best support for your back. Check the set up of your workstation if you are working on a computer; poor placement can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain. Be careful not to twist and reach for phones, files, or other items. Use the wheels and swivel function on your chair or stand up and walk often to exercise your back.
When Moving Objects – Carrying things is not as hard on your back as lifting but it can do just as much damage over time. Keep these guidelines in mind when lifting an object from the ground:
- Get as close as possible to the object
- Bend your knees and keep your back erect as you squat
- Straighten knees, not your back as you lift
- Pivot your feet and do not twist your back as you move the object to another location
- Get close to the object when you begin to lower it to the ground
- Bend your knees and squat as you lower the object
- Maintain the hollow in your back
Low back pain happens and when it does you may wish you had followed some of the tips presented in this article. Try to make a habit of simple precautions like those mentioned here. It might seem odd that some of the things you do on a daily basis could cause you pain but I assure you, your back will pay the price for practicing poor habits.
Next time I will continue to explore more ways to prevent back pain including diet, exercise, stress, and lifestyle. Until then be kind to your back so you will have many years of support…pain free!