To a certain extent, we take our spine for granted and just assume it will do its job every day. Anyone who suffers from back pain can testify to the fallacy of this, and they will tell you that when the spine is out of whack for an extended period, overall health tends to suffer. It is common knowledge how costly back pain is, both financially and in terms of time off work, but it can also have a detrimental effect on your emotional equilibrium.
At some point in our lives, around 80-90% of us will suffer from spinal pain. Those most at risk – who are not the victim of an accident – are those who are overweight or obese, who smoke, who have to lift heavy objects, or who have a history of back pain. With such a high percentage, no one can feel immune to the perils of back pain, so we all have to try to take care of our spine.
The following advice should help you maintain your spine in a healthy state:
- Don’t stand as though to attention with your knees locked. Have one foot slightly in front of the other, with the knees slightly bent or unlocked. This helps relieve pressure from your low back.
- Avoid standing for any length of time bent forward at the waist. This stresses your lower back and can lead to pain.
- Never twist your body when you lift anything; this is the worst thing for your back.
- Pushing an item that’s too heavy to lift is less stressful on your back than pulling it. Make sure your legs are involved more than your back or upper body.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when faced with a heavy item to lift.
- Your knees should be slightly higher than your hips, your head kept up, and your back kept straight.
- Don’t slouch in your chair, i.e. allowing your shoulders to roll forward.
- Remember to keep your lower back in its naturally-curved state.
Reaching or Bending
- Use a stool when you need to reach for anything above shoulder level, otherwise straining can hurt your neck, mid-back and shoulders.
- Never bend at the waist to pick anything up from any level below waist height.
- Choose instead one of two options: kneel on one knee, the other foot flat on the floor, and pick the item up; or bend at both knees, lower yourself with a straight back, and pick the item up. Either way, make sure you keep as close to the object as you can to reduce the strain on your back.
- Similar to the lifting, keep the object as close to your body as you can.
- Spread the weight between two hands if you can, rather than carry one large load.
Diet and Exercise
- The science is not 100% on this, but logic would certainly dictate that carrying extra body weight puts undue stress on your spine. Staying within 10 pounds of your ideal body weight is a good target to aim for.
- Having most of the weight up front, as with a “beer belly”, will cause the muscles, ligaments and tendons in your low back to be even more stressed.
- A sensible, healthy diet and regular exercise is the best way to reduce and then control your weight.
- Before starting any exercise for the first time, or significantly increasing it, talk to your doctor, especially if you have any health condition.
- If you sleep on your back, you are exerting around 50 pounds of pressure on your spine.
- You can cut that pressure in half by putting a pillow under your knees.
- You also reduce this pressure if you lie on your side with a pillow between your knees.
- If your spine is hurting when you try to sleep, find a position that eases it. Listen to your body.
This is sensible whoever you are, but, as far as spine pain is concerned, smokers suffer more than their non-smoking counterparts. The more-than 4000 chemicals in cigarettes also restrict the flow of blow around the body, thus retarding the healing process if your spine is trying to heal.
There is no cast-iron way to avoid back pain, but if you keep the above in mind and keep thinking about your spinal health when carrying out your everyday activities, then you are likely to fare much better – and be a lot happier into the bargain.
Dr. Connor McCormick