Preventing Back Pain

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Self-care tips for back pain

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Oh, my aching back! If you’re like 80% of American adults, you’ve probably suffered from, will suffer from, or maybe even currently suffer from lower back pain that keeps you out of work, affects your ability to do many daily chores, and/or interferes with your sleep. Here are some self-care tips.

It’s spring! Some of us in the northern states may be coming off a season of shoveling snow, digging cars out of snowbanks, and (maybe) hauling firewood with a nagging ache in the back, just as the season for lawn and garden work, not to mention spring cleaning, begins.

Or for some of us, a stabbing pain seems to have come out of nowhere, as we bend over to pick something up from the floor or twisted around in a chair to switch on a light, and it hurts so much we can barely stand.

I once interviewed an orthopedic surgeon who said a near-majority of otherwise healthy patients he saw in his surgical practice suffered back pain or back injuries that could have been prevented with a few simple precautions. But he’d abandoned his surgical practice, frustrated that so few took his self-care advice, which involved learning to lift, stand, and sit correctly, as well as regularly doing a few stomach-and-back-strengthening exercises.  

Why We Get Back Pain

Yes, I know you’ve heard it all before, but now’s the time to listen. Most bouts of back pain can be prevented! 

  1. Too much sitting:  If you sit a lot, ever noticed lower back pain? The muscles of your back and shortening and stifferning.
  2. Poor posture: If you don’t practice good posture, you may notice tight hamstrings (at the back of the thighs) and also Inflexible hip flexor muscles.
  3. Extra weight in the middle: If you have extra weight around the midsection, your spine will tilt too much and put pressure on your back.
  4. Lack of physical activitiy. See more below about adding stratching exercises to your routine. 

Tips to Prevent Back Pain

If your back hurts beyond what a day or two of rest and ice don’t seem to alleviate, see your doctor to rule out a serious medical problem. But if he/she suggests various prevention and self-care tips, save yourself a world of future hurt and comply.

1. Learn to lift correctly

The back was not designed to lift!  So many injuries can be prevented from simply lifting correctly. Here are the 5 simple guidelines from Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

  • Move in so that your feet are close to the base of the object to be lifted.
  • Face the object squarely. Bend your knees and squat over the item to be lifted.  In this position, the back gets added lifting strength and power from the legs and arms.
  • Move up close to the item, because the backbone must act as a supporting column, and it takes the least strain close in.
  • Tilt the item on edge with its long axis straight up so that the center of the weight is as high as possible above the ground.
  • Still squatting, the feet should be set with legs pointed right at the load, with the back straightened, the worker may then grasp the load with both arms and slowly stand up with it, pushing up with the leg muscles. If you can’t lift slowly, you can’t lift safely.

2. Do exercises to prevent lower back pain.

Exercises to both stretch and strengthen the body’s core. It’s important to excercise muscles of the lower back, hips, buttocks and hamstrings two to three times a week. See this sample exercise routine. Photos show different levels of difficulty that allow you to ease into each exercise.

3. Sit properly to prevent lower back pain.

Even when you are driving a car or standing, you want to want to maintain the normal curve of your spin to avoid back pain. Sit as little as possible, and only for short periods of time (10 to 15 minutes). See these tips on the correct sitting, driving, and standing positions.

4. Shovel safely, whether it’s snow or comost. 

The advice for shoveling snow safely applies as well to shoveling compost (or forking mulch hay, digging/shoveling soil for raised beds, etc. This garden safety flyer is really good! Addresses the knees as well as the back.)

5. Relieve back pain with yoga.

Yoga is an excellent way to work on back strength and flexbility, especiallly if your back muscles are tinight. If you like yoga for exercise, Harvard Health has some good advice for performing the exercises in a way that protects and strengthens your back. See the safe way to do yoga for back pain

Need to go to the doctor? Understand how pain. Here is advice on how to talk to your doctor about pain.

About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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