If you have back pain, you are not alone. Nearly everyone at some point has back pain that interferes with work, daily living activities or recreation. Recurring back pain can often be the result of improper body mechanics, including poor posture or lifting objects incorrectly. It can also be the result of a sedentary lifestyle.
Following any period of prolonged inactivity, begin a program of regular low-impact exercises. Speed walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding 30 minutes a day can increase muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga can also help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture. Ask your physical therapist for a list of low-impact exercises appropriate for your age to strengthen lower back and abdominal muscles.
Many work-related injuries are caused or aggravated by stressors such as heavy lifting, contact stress, vibration, repetitive motion, and awkward posture. Applying ergonomic principles — designing furniture and tools to protect the body from injury — at home and in the workplace can greatly reduce the risk of back injury and help maintain a healthy back. More companies and homebuilders are promoting ergonomically designed tools, products, workstations, and living space to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury and pain.
Low back pain generally lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Most acute back pain is mechanical in nature — the result of trauma to the lower back or a disorder such as arthritis. Pain from trauma may be caused by a sports injury, work around the house or in the garden, or a sudden jolt such as a car accident or other stress on spinal bones and tissues. Symptoms may range from muscle ache to shooting or stabbing pain, limited flexibility and/or range of motion, or an inability to stand straight. Occasionally, pain felt in one part of the body may “radiate” from a disorder or injury elsewhere in the body. Some acute pain syndromes can become more serious if left untreated.
The following tips can help you maintain a healthier back:
• Always stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.
• Don’t slouch when standing or sitting. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet. Your back supports weight most easily (when the curvature is reduced) with good posture.
• At home or work, make sure your work surface is at a comfortable height for you.
• Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position and height for the task. Keep your shoulders back. Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around the office or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of your back can provide some lumbar support. If you must sit for a long period of time, rest your feet on a low stool or a stack of books.
• Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.
• Sleep on your side to reduce any curve in your spine. Always sleep on a firm surface.
• Ask for help when transferring an ill or injured family member from a reclining to a sitting position or when moving the patient from a chair to a bed.
• Don’t try to lift objects too heavy for you. Lift with your knees, pull in your stomach muscles, and keep your head in line with your straight back. Keep the object close to your body. Do not twist when lifting.
• Maintain proper nutrition and diet to reduce and prevent excessive weight, especially weight around the waistline that taxes lower back muscles. A diet with sufficient daily intake of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D helps to promote new bone growth.
• If you smoke, quit. Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine and causes the spinal discs to degenerate.
This information has been provided by Eastern Long Island Hospital Physical Therapy and Fitness located at 46520 North Road, Southold.