Around the Clock Tips for Preventing Back Pain
Back pain is astonishingly common in the United States, with 90 percent of people experiencing at least one back injury in their lives. External factors, including everything from the angle of our computer monitors to the way we get into our cars, contribute to the increasing number of cases we see each day. As the number of sufferers increases, so do the costs—in terms of healthcare resources and loss of productivity.
Taking daily steps to protect our backs can be viewed as an investment in a healthy future. It can mean the difference between enjoying playing with our kids and grandchildren now and into our twilight years or agonizing over it—so its high time we stop taking a healthy back for granted.
A Day In The (Pain-Free) Life
Making slight changes to your routine and surroundings can prevent most causes of back pain. While holistic treatments like chiropractic and acupuncture provide pain relief, the following steps are useful for maintaining optimum spinal health in between treatments, and even after you feel well again. From the time you wake until the moment you fall into bed at night (gently, we hope), the following measures will keep you feeling limber and mobile for many years to come.
You spend a third of your life in bed, so this is the first place to troubleshoot if you suffer from chronic back pain. A back-friendly bed is firm and supportive; some folks find comfort with memory foam mattresses, which have no springs and therefore won’t aggravate sensitive pressure points. Whatever mattress you ultimately choose, make sure the company offers at least a 60 day comfort guarantee.
When you wake each morning, stretch your limbs and back before getting out of bed. As you sleep, the body shifts cleansing blood and energy from muscles to vital organs. Upon waking, your spine is lacking all that mobility and blood flow and your muscles are tight, making your back extra vulnerable to tweaks.
Best Foot Forward
The shoes you wear greatly affect the way your back feels at the end of the day; so don’t just throw on any old pair on your way out the door. Avoid thin soles and opt instead for arch support and thick, soft material under both heel and sole for maximum shock absorption—orthopedic shoe inserts can provide even greater comfort. High heels and boots make you lean forward, for which the lower back must over compensate. The resulting misalignment leaves you susceptible to injury, especially after several hours on your feet. If your job requires heels, at least wear athletic shoes to and from the office.
Cars make our lives more convenient, but few people realize the commute could be contributing to poor back health. If you drive for long periods, one small change can greatly decrease adverse effects. For the lucky souls with a lumbar support in the driver’s seat, adjust it so that you have a comfortable inward curve in your low back. If your car lacks this feature, use a towel rolled up to the size of a wine bottle and place it behind the small of your back.
Surviving the 9 to 5
Your workstation has the potential to be one of the biggest aggressors to a happy, healthy spine. Is your chair ergonomically designed? Does the computer monitor sit at eye level? If you spend a lot of time on the phone, do you use a hands free headset? Small changes to the area where you spend the greatest portion of your day will have powerful effects on your well being.
If you sit for hours at a time or work in a stationary position, try to get up and move often, or at the very least, stretch in your seat. If you stand all day, try to alternate periods on your feet with periods of sitting, or raise one foot and place it on a step or elevated space approximately six to eight inches off the floor. This greatly reduces strain to your back’s lower regions.
If heavy lifting is unavoidable, be smart about how you approach the task. Ask for help with big jobs, and keep your back straight at all times. Bend at the knees and lift the object using the strength in your legs and hips. At the end of the workday, relax your back the correct way, rather than just slumping on the couch to watch TV. If you stand at work, relax by sitting, but do it with proper posture. If your 9 to 5 is spent at a desk, lie on your stomach propped up on your elbows, introducing a curve to your back that reverses eight hours worth of slouching.
Hit the Gym
Exercise is irrefutably the best way to protect yourself from injury to the spine. Work your back and abdominal muscles at least three times a week, and engage in activities that increase strength and balance to decrease your risk of falling. Tai chi and yoga are two practices that provide a multitude of benefits to the body, not the least of which are excellent core and back strength and enhanced balance.
Eat Your Heart Out, Back Pain
Your long day ends at the dinner table, where the food choices you make affect more than just your rumbling tummy. It’s important to maintain a healthy weight for your body type; excess fat causes unnecessary back strain. In addition, you need calcium and vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis and brittle bones. Green, leafy vegetables, dairy products, and items like fortified orange juice contain many of these nutrients, and a daily multivitamin ensures you receive enough of the good stuff, since most adult diets tend to fall short of ideal.
Small changes can have a profound impact, and the future of your spinal health depends on actions you take every day, from morning till night. Here’s wishing you health, strength and mobility—for now and always.