If you’ve ever suffered from back pain, you know how it can stop you from doing even the simplest things in your life. So easily, bending over, tying up your shoes, or even reaching for something can become impossible. Well, once you’ve experienced back pain, you certainly will want to do what you can to prevent it from happening again. Here are some great ideas to get you started on the road to back pain prevention:
1. Sleep it off. You would think that your back is pretty safe while you’re sleeping, but if you’ve got an old mattress, it’s not. An aged, unsupportive mattress can leave your spine fighting all night for the chance to be straight. All that effort can leave you feeling achy and sore the next day, so make sure you get a mattress that’s firm but not too firm. Furthermore, try to sleep on your side or your back – sleeping on your stomach causes your neck to sit in a more extended, rotated position, which can ultimately affect the rest of your spine.
2. Warm it up. When you get up from that new, supportive, firm-but-not-too-firm bed that you’ve just bought, be sure to ease your back into a working state for your daily activities. First, climb out of bed gradually, giving your joints a minute or two to adjust. Then once you’re standing, add in some simple stretching to get yourself a little more limber. Ever seen a cat wake up? That’s how they do it – it’s natural and normal. Finally, watch your posture when you’re brushing your teeth, making breakfast, and getting dressed. This simple attention to how you hold yourself can sink in unconsciously, and help you throughout the rest of your day.
3. Lighten up. If your purse, briefcase or knapsack that you wear on only one shoulder weighs a ton, consider that all of that weight has to be carried by your back muscles. And if you think that you’re getting a workout with it, think again: your body isn’t made to carry weight lop-sided like that. Ever heard of a one-arm purse-carry at the gym? Me neither. Carrying more than 10% of your body weight in such a fashion (pun intended) is too much. Consider a messenger-type purse or bag that has a long enough strap so you can carry it across your chest, or wear a knapsack that has proper back-support, and then wear it the way it was intended.
4. Drive safe. Now that you’ve made it to your car in one piece, do a few things to make sure that your drive, especially if it’s a long one, won’t hurt your back. If your car is an older model, or even a newer one without a decent seat, consider getting a seat cushion to add support, especially in the lumbar area. Also, position your mirrors to prevent you from having to twist around too much, and avoid putting your seat in a position that is too reclined. And for long drives, make frequent stops to stretch and give your muscles a break.
5. Work safe. Those commercials you’ve seen on television are right: workplace safety is extremely important. Aside from using proper lifting technique, make sure that your work area is set up correctly. You’ll need to position your computer screen at eye level, sit in an ergonomic chair that supports your lower back, and use a footrest when necessary. And try to get up and move every 20 minutes or so – this will help keep your back, leg and hip muscles from getting too tight. And when you sit back down, take this opportunity to reset your posture to a proper, healthy position.
6. Work it out. After work, you might want to hit the gym, and with good reason: getting the right exercise to prevent back pain is the first sensible step that you can take. If you already exercise, then it will only be a matter of adding in a few extra things to your routine, or swapping them for others you’re already doing. If you are not yet into exercise, consider adding in something like yoga, or at the very least doing some basic exercises for 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week. Exercises to prevent back pain can be found here in detail, but the basics include: hamstring and hip stretches, as well as cross-planar core, lower abdominal and cross-planar whole body muscle strengthening. If you’re unsure of how to do the correct exercise for back pain prevention, seek the help of a qualified personal trainer or yoga teacher.
7. Home sweet home. Back at the ranch, keep up the good work by continuing to use proper lifting techniques, and also use helpful aids where you can. Get a decent ladder or stepstool instead of using chairs to stand on, and use paint rollers and dusters with extendable handles so you don’t have to overextend your arms. And it’s also worth mentioning diet here too: many people will wile away the evening hours in front of the television, snacking and (often without thinking) consuming way too many calories. Don’t undo that good work you did at the gym by packing on the pounds: obesity can put added pressure on your spine, and eventually can cause your precious spinal discs to degenerate. So eat right, even just to prevent back pain.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner