by Dr. Willena C. Brooks
It's really not surprising that at one time or another, every individual will suffer from back pain. After all, our backs are literally involved in every thing we do. Our spine and back muscles are constantly working, even when we're not. They are responsible for keeping us upright and maintaining our different postures, such as sitting, standing, or even lying down. Most of us don't realize the involvement of our spinal structure, specifically the back, until it becomes injured. Then and only then, do we gain some appreciation of just how important a healthy back is.
A very small percentage of back pain cases are actually the result of major trauma. Obviously, no one chooses to be involved in a motor vehicle accident, fall down a flight of stairs, or slip on a banana peel. These things just happen and we have little to no control over them. However, we do have control over how we use our bodies and what we expose our bodies to. Injuries resulting from improper body movements and other forms of non-traumatic causes, which happen to make up the majority of back pain cases, can often be prevented.
How to prevent back injuries
Perhaps the most important and most time and energy consuming preventive measure is to be physically fit. Regular exercise is important in the prevention of back pain as well as a host of several hundred other conditions. Activities such as cycling, walking, running, and swimming are easy ways to involve many -- if not all -- of the muscle groups. In addition to increasing the strength and flexibility of your muscles, regular exercise will help shed any unnecessary or unhealthy weight, decreasing the stress on your back and spinal structures.
In addition to regular exercise, proper nutrition is an absolute necessity. To functional properly, our bodies need the right nutrients. Calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and Vitamin D are just some examples of the nutrients we need to promote neuromusculoskeletal (nerve, muscle, and bone) health. A good diet is also more likely to encourage physical exercise. Try drinking soda's and eating chips all day and see if you're feeling up to running a couple of miles.
Obviously, becoming physically fit and developing a healthy diet are lengthy processes; and for some, it will be harder than for others. However, there are some easy and simple things we can all do, such as:
• Use caution when lifting. Whether you're lifting a screaming kid, heavy boxes, or furniture, there's definitely a right way and a completely wrong way to do it.
- Right Way - Use your knees! Use your knees! Use your knees! Bend at the knees to get closer, assuming the object is on a lower surface, to the object. Your feet should be approximately shoulder width apart and your stomach muscles tightened. Attempt to bring the object as close to you as possible. Holding the angry child or box as close to your upper body as possible, lift with your leg muscles. Should you find the object too heavy to lift properly, definitely ask for help.
• Practice good posture. Poor posture can lead to muscle injury and fatigue. The natural spinal curves are often distorted in persons who consistently demonstrate poor posture. Trigger points and painful muscle spasms often result which can lead to chronic and/or recurrent back pain. Having or practicing good posture will not only maintain the natural spinal curves and prevent muscular injury, but it will also make you feel and look a great deal better.
Standing Posture - Maintain a straight spine by keeping your chin up and your head centered over your shoulders - simply put, don't slouch! Try to keep your knees slightly bent at all times with your legs a little less than shoulder width apart. Standing with locked knees may actually cause stress to the low back. And while I'm a big fan of nice shoes, ladies, you have to leave the high-heels at the store! High-heels add unnecessary stress to the low back, completely exaggerate the lumbar curve (causing swayback) and are horrible on your feet. Good, comfortable shoes are a must for good posture.
Seated Posture - To promote comfort and good posture while sitting, it's important to choose a chair that supports your back. If you're not able to keep your feet flat on the floor, you should adjust the chair accordingly. If you're not able to find a chair that supports your lower back, try placing a rolled towel or small pillow behind your lower back. Depending on how you assume the seated position, for example while getting into the car, you may need to readjust yourself to make sure that you are sitting evenly and you're not actually sitting more to one side than the other. Men, you're not getting off the hook that easy! If you haven't cleaned out your wallet since you bought it ten years ago, and it's become extremely bulky, please do not sit on it! Remove all bulky objects, (i.e., wallets, keys, etc.), from your back pockets when you sit to make sure that your weight is being distributed evenly across your pelvis.
Lying Posture - Absolutely avoid lying on your stomach. Lying on one's stomach not only increases pressure and stress in the lower back/spine, but unless you're comfortable with your face smashed into a pillow, a lot of rotation will need to take place in the neck to prevent such a position. While definitely not the best position, many people find lying on their back to be very comfortable. For those suffering with back problems, placing a pillow under the knees and/or low back may help relieve any pressure and maintain the natural spinal curves. Lying on your side is a favored position by many individuals. Side-lying may also be a comfortable position that provides relief for individuals with back problems. It's important while in this position to have adequate support for the head and neck. A pillow which fills the gap between the head/neck and the bed should be used to keep the head and neck in line with the rest of the spine. Placing a pillow between the knees will help reduce lumbar and pelvic torsion. Lying on one's right side as opposed to the left may be more preferred as it would prevent any pressure from being placed on the heart.
• Avoid prolonged postures. If your job requires long hours of sitting or standing, try to incorporate "position changes" throughout your day. Examples of such "position changes" include: shifting your weight from leg to leg, elevating one leg at a time if you're fortunate enough to have access to a foot stool, and/or walking around for a little while if your job requires you to sit down for long periods. Simply put, try to move around as much as possible. In the event that you're displaying poor posture, periodic movement will possibly prevent micro trauma to the spine and surrounding musculature.
While there are many other "tips" or recommendations available for those who would like to prevent back injuries, implementing the above recommendations into your daily life is definitely a good place to start. Everyone can benefit from a healthy spine and back. Getting serious about spinal health today could possibly prevent a lot of aches and pains tomorrow.
Willena Brooks is an Ohio licensed Doctor of Chiropractic and the owner of Mommy & Me Chiropractic, Ltd. For more information on prenatal chiropractic care or to schedule an appointment, call 513-931-4300 or visit www.mommynmeonline.com.
Copyright © Willena Brooks. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.