Regardless of the time of year each season brings certain risk factors for injuring your back. In the Spring and Summer many people get outside and become more active drastically increasing work or exercise intensity and frequency. In a past post I discussed how physical therapists can help your back pain but today I thought we could focus more on prevention. Below you will learn some common sense strategies, postures, and or body mechanics to help you minimize risk of back injury in the first place.
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You may have had a Mom who always harped on you to keep your shoulders back and guess what once again mother knows best. Whether sitting or standing you want to maintain a tall spine, shoulder back position to help maintain those natural spinal curves and keep your stabilizing muscles in their optimal positions to work. One tip that may help you is squeeze your shoulder blades together, automatically makes you get taller should you be slouching.
Supporting Those Curves
We have curves in our spine to help us absorb shock better so maintaining those curves can be very helpful. A towel roll can do wonders to help you achieve this. If seated, it can be placed in the curve of your lower back for lumbar support. Women may notice more benefit when it is placed mid back at bra level. You can also place the towel roll inside your pillowcase at the base of the pillow to support your neck curve when sleeping on either your back or your sides. Some also like a towel roll under the low back when sleeping or a pillow under the knees and/or between the knees depending on if you are on your back or side. If standing, place your foot on a stool, ledge, or lower cabinet frame to help you maintain those curves. Just remember to keep changing which foot is up so each side gets a chance to work and rest.
Your spine keeps you upright and it is what your appendages attach to for daily function and tasks. It takes proper stabilization and timing of not only your abdominal muscles, but also muscles in your hips, thighs, and scapular stabilizers to work safely and effectively. Though this article will not review specific strength exercises knowing the parts you or your trainer can focus strength efforts on can be a big help.
When muscles are tight two different things can happen. First extra pressure is exerted around the tight tissues which can lead to irritation in surrounding pain sensitive structures that are not designed to have pressure on them. Second, your tightness may inhibit some or whole groups of muscles from being able to work which can cause stabilization issues or compensations. Some common areas to focus on include but are not limited to the upper traps, pecs, lats, hamstrings, hip flexors, hip rotators, ITB, and calf muscles.
As humans we are meant to move and many current occupations unfortunately are sedentary with a lot of sitting. Try to get into the habit of changing positions every 30-45 minutes to decrease possible tissue stress that could be occurring or building up. Also try to walk or move around on breaks or before/after work.
Work smarter not harder. If you are lifting or reaching for something bend your hips and knees to get closer to the object rather just bend from your back. If you have to rotate to get something rather than twist which can be very bad for your back, pivot your foot so your hips stay aligned with the object you are reaching for. Also when lifting or carrying keep the object as close to you as possible for better support and less possible strain. For higher objects get a step stool rather than try to overreach and don’t hesitate to ask for help when something is outside your lifting comfort zone. Lastly when getting out of bed roll like a log rather than sit straight up to avoid unnecessary loading of the spine.
Ergonomic and Protective Equipment
Whether at home, work, or during recreational activity repetitive stresses can cause strain or even degeneration through the spine over time. There are many products and tools that can help so don’t be shy about using them or requesting them if needed. Many companies even offer a workstation ergonomic evaluation to assess things like proper chair height and support, computer screen placement, keyboard design, phone/headset use, or gel pads or supports where necessary. From braces, supports, and/or cushioning to adaptive equipment or work stations redesigns there are many great options to help keep your back healthier for the long term.
We are designed to be symmetrical from side to side to keep the body balanced and working efficiently. Try to avoid repetitively doing something only to one side if possible and share the workload from left to right. Asymmetries cause compensations and possible stress or strain in the spine and surrounding structures. If it is hard for you to see or change your own asymmetries head over to a local Athletico for a functional movement screen from one of our certified staff as a proactive way to help get you back on track.
Although this may seem like an obvious one we are what we eat. To help promote disc health drink plenty of water to maintain the necessary cushioning our discs provide. Bones are made up of minerals so for optimal spine health avoid things devoid of nutrients and minerals like processed, boxed, or fast food and instead aim for homemade, fresh, and organic produce and meats as able.
Though this list is a good starting point or reference on things you can do or be more aware of to protect your back for the long term. Please take a moment to share any other ideas below that may not have been mentioned. Good Luck!
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.