The back supports the upper body, protects the spinal cord and allows the body flexibility. The back has four natural curves at the neck, the middle back, the lower back and the tailbone. These curves support your weight and absorb stress. The spine contains 24 hard bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated by cushions called discs that absorb shock when you move. Fluid inside the discs allows you to move freely. Too much of the wrong type of movement can cause abnormal wear and tear which can lead to back injuries.
Back pain is not uncommon for many people. In fact more than 80% of adults experience back pain but the more serious conditions are less common. Generally when back pain occurs recovery can be two to six weeks if the person remains active. Even if back pain is occurring, low impact activity that does not cause further back stress or strain may be beneficial. Good examples of light exercise are walking, swimming or riding an exercise bike.
Activity is good for your back because it:
- Develops, stretches & strengthens muscles and joints
- Maintains & increases your flexibility
- Prevents your joints from seizing up
- Assists in developing stronger bones
- Keeps your heart and lungs healthy
- Reduces pain by releasing natural chemicals such as endorphins
Back Pain and Risk Factors
Back Pain Factors
- Poor posture
- Slips and falls
- Unnatural movements
- Carrying or lifting excessive weight
- Stress – physical or mental
- Over exertion
- Lack of exercise
- Medical factors
Back Pain - Assessing Your Risk
- The heavier the load, the greater the risk to the back.
- If twisting movement is involved in lifting a heavy load, abnormal stress will be placed on the back.
- Jobs with a vibration element, like driving a truck or heavy vehicles, seem to predispose individual to back problems.
- Conversely, jobs that do not have a lot of movement in them, like driving a car or sitting at a workstation for prolonged periods, have the same predisposition for back problems.
- Jobs that have abnormal postures that create excessive muscular action or static loading also carry a risk factor.
- Situations where a weight shifts suddenly while being lifted can also create problems (e.g., an ambulance attendants work)
Back Injury Symptoms
Symptoms of back pain can vary greatly depending on the injury and the individual but can include:
- Pain, tightness or stiffness
- Decreased range of motion
- Numbness, tingling or burning into the legs
- Limited ability to sit or stand
Back Safety Tips - Prevent Pain, Strain or Injury
There are many things we can do to take care of our backs and prevent problems that arise from injury, pain and strain. A few general tips that may prevent problems include:
- Being active and enjoying regular exercise such as walking or swimming
- Maintaining posture
- Standing up tall but maintaining a relaxed manner
- When sitting, choose a chair that provides support for your lower back
- Think about your movements before you lift or twist
- Keep your abdominal muscles strong
- Avoid weight gain
General Back Tips
- Maintain a Natural Position - You'll notice your lower back curves naturally when standing straight. Do your best to maintain this posture while lifting, lowering or moving. This position assures the greatest spinal and back stability.
- Hug That Load - Holding a load close to your belly and body reduces the strain on the muscles of your back and trunk. If required, wear protective clothing to prevent sharp objects form causing injury.
- Flex Your Abdominal Muscles - Contracting your abdominal muscles – or bracing – when lifting, lowering or moving improves your spinal stability. Even slight abdominal contractions can largely reduce your likelihood of getting injured.
- Don’t Twist - Twisting decreases the stability of your back and increases your likelihood of injury. Pivot with your feet to turn, rather than twisting your body.
- Additional lifting methods
Posture and Sitting Tips
- Do not:
- lump-sit (Your low back should be supported)
- Lean forward and downward to reach for your work
- Sit for long periods of time without getting up
- Sit on the floor
- Sit close to your work.
Sit in a chair that is low enough to place both feet on the floor and no lower
- Have a chair that supports your lower back in a slightly arched position
- Use an arm rest whenever possible to reduce stress to the upper body and neck
- Remove your wallet or other bulky material from your back pockets
- Organize your workstation to avoid repetitive bending, twisting or reaching while seated.
Remember proper posture when talking on the phone. Do not cradle the phone in the crook of your neck
Bending and Crouching Tips
- Whether you bend from a seated position, bend from the standing position, crouch on one knee or both knees, or crouch with both feet flat on the floor, keep your back straight, maintain your normal curve, support your weight and bend at the hips and knees!!!
- When bending or crouching, support your weight with the free hand by leaning on a desk, your thigh or whatever is available. Keeping your feet apart allows for greater stability and balance.
- When combining crouching or bending with reaching, stabilize yourself and maintain your lumbar curve.
Taking time out to stretch can reduce accumulated tension and allow our bodies to move with greater ease and comfort. Regular Stretching will:
- Reduce muscle tension and allow you to feel more relaxed\
- Permit easier movement
- Increase range of motion in all joints
- Prevent injuries
- Make activities easier because it prepares the muscles for movement
- Develop body awareness
- Help reduce stress and its effects
- Feel good!
It is important to stretch in a relaxed manner with sustained movements that focus your attention on the muscles being stretched. Do not bounce, bob, jerk or stretch to the point of pain.
Examples of stretching exercises
- Muscle maintenance is life skill. Incorporate simple core strengthening exercises such as crunches or abdominal contractions into daily activities to ensure you work at building muscle strength on a consistent basis.
- Remember to push yourself gradually to make progress. Start slowly, but be prepared to add to the difficulty or repetition of your exercises on a weekly basis. Form should never be sacrificed.
- Pace yourself and stay within your personal limits.
- Be comfortable and have fun. Don’t strain yourself. You may experience slight discomfort initially however there should never be prolonged or moderate pain.
- Gentle, relaxed breathing is key for stretch-relaxation exercise.
- Whenever possible avoid arching your back while exercising.
- Consult with your physician before starting an exercise program.