Preventing Backache

There is much you can do to prevent backache. In more than half of all cases back pain eventually recurs, so if you have a history of back problems and even if you don’t it’s good idea to take some preventive measures. Most backaches are due at least in part to weak or tense muscles and excessive strains on them. To protect your back, consider the following:

Extra weight: A paunch can Strain back muscles, distort posture, and overly compress the disks in the lower back. Not surprisingly, then, most obese people have chronic back problems. Excess weight, particularly if it has been recently gained, puts increased strain on back muscles and ligaments. Being pregnant can have a similar adverse effect because it alters your center of gravity.

Poor posture. A sagging stomach, swayback, and slouched shoulders are a trio that almost guarantees back pain. Overly erect posture (military stance) can also endanger the lower back by arching it too much. Correct posture keeps the head and chest high, neck straight, pelvis forward, and stomach and buttocks tucked in.

Standing. Don’t stand too long in one position. Try to keep moving. Bending forward at the kitchen or bathroom is an easy way to strain the back. Occasionally shift your weight from one foot to the other or stand with one foot elevated on a low stool to relieve back pressure.

Sitting. A sedentary lifestyle can be hard on your back. Particularly stressful are slumping in a chair, which leaves the lower back unsupported, and hunching over, which tenses the muscles in the neck and upper back. When sitting, keep your shoulders back, and be sure that your feet are flat ‘on the floor (or resting on a chair reng or stool). Don’t cross your legs above the knee, since this can pull your pelvis out alignment. Choose a firm chair that supports your lower back. Chair armrests are a plus because they can support some of your weight. When driving, keep the car seat forward so that your knees are comfortably bent. Make sure that the seat is supportive. If the car seat isn’t adjustable, try using a firm folding seat insert; or place a small pillow or piece of foam behind your lower back to improve your driving posture.

Sleeping. Don’t lie on your stomach, since that makes the stomach sag and increases swayback. Instead, lie on your side with your knees bent to relieve pressure on the disks. For the same reason, if you lie on your back, keep your knees slightly bent by putting a pillow under them. For most people, the ideal mattress has firm inner support but adequate surface cushioning. If your mattress 1s too soft, insert a board under it.

Exercise. Regular exercise is vital to the health of your back. For information on some types of exercise that may help your back see illustrations.

Lifting and carrying. Bending to pick up an object puts maximum strain on your back and is probably the number one cause of backaches. When you lift, bend at the knees, not at the waist, making your leg muscles do most of the work. To pick up something heavy, squat with your legs apart, tighten your stomach muscles, keep your back straight, and hold the object close to your body. Better yet, push a heavy object instead of lifting it. Pulling is more likely to injure your back, when carrying a heavy load, don’t arch your back or twist your body try to let your arms and abdominal muscles bear the weight. Because a heavy purse or briefcase can pull your back out of alignment, alternate the load from side to side.

Dress. Prolonged use of tight pants and girdles may promote weak abdominal muscles and resulting back trouble. Avoid high heels because they tend to increase the curvature of the back and increase the risk of a fall.

Psychological stress. The role of stress in backaches (and pain in general) is much debated. Since emotional stress can generate muscle tension and tense muscles are more susceptible to injury, some back specialists claim that it’s the major cause of many backaches. In some people anxiety and back pain become a vicious cycle: they worry about recurrent backache, which in turn leads to more anxiety, more muscle tension and eventually more back pain. Depression. Too, may contribute to back pain by magnifying it. Try to recognize when stress is building up. To reduce tension emotional and physical try exercise or relaxation techniques.

Article extracted from this publication >> March 4, 1988