Prevent Back Pain

Prevent Back Pain

Back Pain, Part 4—Prevention

Wouldn’t it be great to avoid back pain altogether?  And if you have had one or more episodes of low back pain, avoiding another occurrence is probably high on your list.

So far, we have looked at basic causes of low back pain, simple self-treatmentcommon exercises for low back pain, and getting imaging for low back pain.  If you have experienced low back pain in the past, are you doomed to having your back “go out” from time to time for the rest of your life?  Many people believe it to be true.  But rarely is that the case if you are willing to put some effort and discipline into preventing it.

  1. Just as optimal movement and flexibility helps reduce low back pain, it also prevents new or repeating episodes. In particular, the flexibility of the your hips, hamstrings, and upper back either keep your back healthy or set you up for problems.  If you are not a fan of stretching, a yoga class is a great option for encouragement.  Look for beginner classes with instructors who are passionate about teaching yoga and are focused on correct form.  Be sure they are capable and willing to tell you how to safely modify any yoga pose that causes pain or is too difficult.  Feeling an intense stretch and needing to work for your pose are both good, but you should be able to continue to breathe easily and comfortably.  Of course, you can always continue the exercises I included in Part 2 of this series.
  2. Take control of your posture.  If I sound like your mom about now (“Stand up straight”), you need to stop and send her a text to say “Thank you!”    Really.  I’ll wait. . .                                                                                                             Poor, slumping posture is HORRIBLE for the back.  Today’s world spends a significant portion of the day slumped.  At a computer.  In a car.  Over a smartphone.  Slumped posture causes muscular imbalance—some muscles over-tighten and others over-stretch and go on vacation.  And it doesn’t change when you stand up.  We spend so much time sitting, and especially slumping, that our brain and muscles get re-trained to work in inefficient ways that lead to low back pain (in addition to neck and shoulder pain).  Good posture maintains the natural curves of the spine, allowing for the perfect combination of stability and movement.  The low back should gently curve forward, with a gentle curve backward in the upper back, and another gentle forward curve in the neck.  The ears should line up over the shoulders, which line up over the hips, which fall in line with the ankles.  (See the picture to the left.) You can use the angry cat or cat/camel to help find a “neutral” position for your low back.   In a later post, I will go into much greater depth on posture’s relation to pain.
  3. Lift properly. When lifting heavy objects, it is important to use the large muscles of your buttocks and thighs, not your back.  Here are some rules for proper lifting mechanics:
    • Get as close as possible to the object being lifted. The farther away from the body you hold an object, the harder the muscles of the low back work, and the larger strain is placed on the discs.
    • Keep your center of gravity between your base of support. The heavier the object, the wider you need to place your feet.
    • Do not round your spine. This means to bend with the hips and knees, not your back.  (Make a “duck butt”)
    • Never twist. Move your feet to face the object squarely.

  • Avoid carrying heavy loads on one side. Think backpacks, babies, computer bags, etc.  Whenever possible distribute weight evenly on both sides to prevent having to compensate for being pulled to the side of the weight.
  • Keep weight under control. Weight gain, especially in the abdomen, changes posture and adds strain to the low back.  This is why many women develop low back pain late in pregnancy.

 

Are you currently dealing with back pain?  Part 1 of this series discusses facts about back pain and initial self-treatment.  Part 2 gives you exercises to try for your back pain.  And Part 3 looks at the issue of imaging, specifically whether you need an MRI.

 

**As always, this blog is not intended to diagnose or prescribe specific treatment for individuals.  It is a general guide only.  If you have a history of serious medical problems, questions, or other concerns, consult an appropriate medical professional.**

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