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BACK PAIN PREVENTION AND RELIEF

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  • Tips & Tricks

BACK PAIN PREVENTION AND RELIEF

Nothing puts a kink in your day like back pain. Whether you are aware of it or not, just about every move you make involves your back in some way, so experiencing pain in this area can be extremely debilitating. Sports aside, tasks as simple as getting groceries or getting out of bed in the morning all engage the back, so it is important to take good care of it. Luckily, there are many, very simple tricks to help you do just that.

Incorporate these easy tips into your day to keep your back
strong, supple, and supported.

At the office:

The reality of today is that while our backs appreciate movement, a lot of us are working desk jobs and using computers and mobile devices for hours at a time. Because of this, slouching has become an extremely prevalent problem.

Since office work and computers aren’t likely to disappear any time soon, however, it is important to counter-act these tendencies through good posture practices. For example, you can try:

  • Moving your chair closer to your desk and keeping your chair back upright rather than tilted. This will keep you from extending your arms (and pulling your shoulders) too far forward, which will help keep your back straight. Check in from time to time to make sure that your entire back (not just the lower part) is touching your chair. If it isn’t, you are probably slouching.

  • Taking stretch breaks. Get up regularly to use the restroom and refill your water. If you are unable to leave your desk, don’t forget to look up from your screen from time to time and do some head rolls to ease your neck. Take a deep breath in and make yourself as tall as you can, then exhale while drawing your shoulders down and back as if you are trying to touch the front of your shoulders to your chair. Hold this position for a couple of seconds and then release.
  • Changing your shoes. It is surprising just how much taking care of your feet has an impact on your back. Indeed, if food is the way to a man’s heart, then the way to the back’s is a low heel and well supported sole. That said, for some jobs this is easier said than done, so if heels or business shoes are a nonnegotiable, consider keeping them at the office and wearing something more foot-friendly for your commute. Another alternative is changing shoes throughout the day or at least from day to day. This helps the cushioning in your shoe to “recover” and therefore better support you and also changes how your weight is distributed so that one single area of your body isn’t bearing all the stress.

At the gym:

Strong core, strong body – and no, this does not mean becoming a weight lighting champion or doing 500 sit-ups a day. But just as tree branches grow from a stable, supportive trunk, so too is our core the support system whose strength reinforces the rest of our body. And many factors outside of how many pull-ups you can do contribute to this. Keep your core ready for action by:

  • Keeping balance. Look to perform exercises that target both abdominal muscles and back muscles (plank is your new best friend!) since your core can only be strong when both are equally developed. Mixing in workouts that focus on stabilizer muscles and slow, powerful movements such as yoga or Pilates will also provide great core strength and overall body awareness, which makes for a formidable back pain prevention combination.
  • Being flexible. Thinking back to our tree, let’s not forget the importance of flexibility as a compliment to strength. After all, even the strongest tree would break if it could not bend to accommodate the wind. The same is true of our bodies: a basic level of flexibility will not only help prevent injury (tears, sprains, and the like) by increasing your range of motion, but will actually take pressure off of your back by distributing physical effort more evenly. A great example of this is the hamstrings (large muscles in the backs of our thighs). When these are tight, the range of motion in your pelvis becomes limited, which in turn causes stress to build in your lower back. Loosening the hamstrings through stretching thus relieves the back since it no longer is being used to compensate for the rigidity of the pelvic area.

  • Using proper form and lifting techniques. At the end of the day, most nontrauma related back injuries are going to be the result of one of two things: trying to do too much too quickly or bad form, pure and simple. We all want to push ourselves and see fast results but in this case, slow and steady really does win the race. To keep your form in check, be sure to:
    • Lift from your legs, not your back. If you are preparing to lift a heavy object, make sure you are standing as close to it as possible. Squat down with a straight back, get a firm grip on the object, and then lift up through the legs, keeping your back straight throughout the entire motion.
    • Use the “slight bend” rule. No matter the exercise (squat, deadlift, overhead press, you name it!), leaving a slight bend in your knees will give you a better, more stable stance and take tension away from your lower back.
    • Know your limits. When our bodies become exhausted, form is often the first thing to go. Check in with yourself constantly to make sure you aren’t sacrificing form for a few extra reps. An exercise executed with bad form is less effective and quickly leads to injury, so you are far better off stopping earlier or taking a break rather than having to sit the next few months out in recovery.

 

At home:

We hear about the importance training right and keeping good posture all the time, but what about those negligible little everyday things at home that are so routine, we don’t even give them a second thought? You may be tempted to brush them off, but these last few tips are not to be overlooked!

  • Sleep like a pro. No joke here, not only how long but literally how you sleep can take its toll on your back’s health. We know that sleep gives us the time to relax and replenish our resources, so setting aside enough time for this is essential. What we maybe don’t pay enough attention to is literally how we are positioning ourselves while sleeping. If you suffer from back pain or your body aches when you wake up in the morning, your best bet is to sleep on your back (supine position). This allows your spine to fully decompress since it is supported by a flat surface and is not forced into a curved position. Sleeping on your side is the next best thing and may be a great option for people who find the supine position too unnatural, however sleeping on your stomach (prone position) should be avoided at all costs. This forces the back to arch, which compresses the lumbar spine, and the neck to twist to the side, which causes torsion in the cervical spine. In this case, sleep no longer offers sufficient relaxation and can instead increase tension in both the upper and lower back.

*Tip: while we can’t really control what we do in our sleep, if you find you are turning over onto your stomach in the night, try using a side-sleeper pillow to support yourself and keep your body from rotating fully.

  • Lighten your load. When you do get up in the morning, check your bags before heading out the door. It’s easy to take too much with you, especially when you are in a rush, so slow down and consider what you really need to get through your day. Leave your bag at home whenever possible or, when you really need the storage, opt for a backpack rather than a shoulder bag. If you can’t stand to abandon your purse, at least be sure to switch from shoulder to shoulder since the unbalanced load will change your posture.
  • Reduce stress. Stress is the cause of many unpleasant things and a lot of them have to do with the ways it manifests in your body. Breakouts and stomach aches are classics, but your back is far from immune. You know that tension that builds between the shoulder blades after a long day and then creeps straight up your neck, setting off headaches like car alarms? That’s stress too. Of course, stress is not something you can make disappear, but you can change how you deal with it and also how much you allow it to creep into your life in smaller ways. Use exercise, meditation, or a hot bath to bring yourself back down from a difficult situation and make sure to take proper breaks from the daily stresses (there may be no off button for stress, but there is one for your phone!) we often forget we are choosing to partake in. Schedule yourself time to relax the same way you schedule your other appointments and your back will follow suit.

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