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How to Take Care of Your Back

Introduction
Your back is your body's key support. Without it, standing, walking or sitting is impossible. Many people unknowingly abuse their backs when they don't think about the proper way of doing things like lifting, moving, standing or sitting.

Even a simple movement like picking up a pencil could hurt the back if done incorrectly. The resulting disability or pain could make it difficult to care for yourself, work, play or sleep.

Back Pain
Four out of five adults at one time or another experience back pain. It is second only to headaches in causing pain and second to cold symptoms in sending people to the doctor's office. Recent studies indicate that less than 15 percent of back pain cases are the result of a structural problem such as a ruptured disc, arthritis or tumors. In most cases, the problem arises from an imbalance of the musculature (muscles, ligaments, and tendons) surrounding the spine, or abnormal positions or posture. Knowing and understanding these causes can help you learn to care for your back correctly and maintain good health.

Causes of Back Pain

Poor posture - Bad posture strains the neck and lower back, making it more vulnerable to injury and even inhibiting the normal functioning of the internal organs.

Lack of exercise - Not enough exercise accounts for weak and flabby muscles that cannot support the body.

Overweight - Extra weight adds to the strain on your spine and muscles.

Back Sprains - Pain occurs when the muscles in your back are used improperly.

Slipped or Ruptured Discs - Slipped discs in the backbones may pinch nerve endings and cause pain.

Osteoarthritis - This painful part of the aging process cannot be avoided. Attention to posture and exercise can minimize pain.

Tension and Stress - The anxieties of daily life can contribute to lower back pain.

Proper Posture

The neck, chest and lower back parts of the spine have alternating curves, which give you an upright posture. When your back is balanced, it is self-supporting and requires little help from your back muscles. Correct posture is important no matter what position you assume - standing, sitting or lying.

For good posture, think about leaning against a wall while sitting or standing. The back of your head, shoulders and buttocks should touch the wall. Good posture is not simply a matter of "standing tall." It refers to the correct use of the body at all times.

Bending and Lifting
• Bend at the knees and hips, not the waist.
• Use the stronger muscles of the legs, not the back.
• Hold heavy objects close to your body. Do not overreach.
• Never bend over without bending at the knees.
• Keep your back straight.
• Lift objects only chest-high.
• Turn your feet and walk in the direction you want to go to set down the object. Do not twist.
• Get help if the load is heavy.
• Be sure of your footing.
• If possible, instead of lifting, carefully push or pull the object.

Sitting
• Sit in chairs low enough to place both feet on the floor with knees higher than your hips.
• Cross your legs or put your feet up on a stool.
• Avoid over-cushioned chairs, like sofas.
• Sit firmly against the back of the chair.
• Keep your neck and back in a straight line.
• Use a small cushion in the back if necessary.

Driving
• Move the car seat forward to keep knees bent and higher than your hips.
• Sit up straight.
• Sit close enough to the wheel so you don't have to stretch for the pedals.

Standing
• Stand with your lower back flat. Don't bend forward with straight legs.
• If you work standing up, put one foot on a footrest to help relieve swayback.
• Change positions often. Don't stand in the same position for a long time.
• Wear comfortable shoes.

Walking
• Walk with good posture - head held high and chin tucked in.
• Wear comfortable shoes. Don't wear platform or high heels when walking for a long period of time.

Sleeping
• Sleep on a firm mattress. Avoid soft, old, sagging, no-support mattresses.
• Sleep on your side with your knees bent or sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees.
• If you sleep on your stomach, put a small pillow under your stomach to support your spine.


Recommended Exercises

In addition to proper posture, exercise is also important to help keep your back strong. Before you start any exercise program, a complete evaluation by your doctor is recommended so that the correct exercises for your specific back problem can be selected. Any persistent backache should be brought to your doctor's attention.

The stretches can be performed all at once or spread throughout the day. You should stretch at least 5 days a week. DISCONTINUE AN EXERCISE IF IT IS PAINFUL.

Neck
• Slowly tuck your chin in to your chest. Keeping the chin tucked, slowly rotate your head toward one shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch in the neck muscles. Hold for 10 counts, then relax. Perform 10 - 15 repetitions to each side.

• Slowly tuck your chin in to your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in the muscles along the back of your neck. Hold for 10 counts, then relax. Do 10 - 15 repetitions.

• Keeping your mouth closed and leading with the chin, slowly tilt your head back until you feel a gentle stretch in the muscles along the front of your neck. Hold for 10 counts, then relax. Perform 10 - 15 repetitions.

• Keeping your head in line with your shoulders, slowly bend your neck to the side until you feel a gentle stretch along the opposite side of your neck. Hold for 10 counts, then relax. Perform 10 - 15 repetitions to each side.

• Tuck in your chin. Push head back against your hands or the floor (if lying on your back). Hold for 3 - 5 counts. Do 10 - 20 repetitions. Place your hand on the side of your head. Tuck your chin in and push your head to the side, against your hand. Hold for 3 - 5 counts. Perform 10 - 20 repetitions.

Shoulders
• Stand or sit with a normal curve in the neck, mid-back and low-back. Grab your elbow with the opposite hand and pull it straight across your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of the shoulder. Hold for 10 counts, then relax. Perform 10 - 15 repetitions on each side.

Lower Back
• Knee Pull-up - Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet resting on the floor. With your hands, pull one knee to your chest, then pull the other until you feel a gentle stretch in the lower back. Hold for 10 counts, then put one leg down at a time. Do 10 -15 repetitions.

• Pelvic Tilt - Lie on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Tighten your buttocks and lift your hips off the floor. Keep your upper back against the floor. Hold for five seconds. Perform 10-15 repetitions.

Abdominals
• Abdominal stretch - Lie on your stomach and prop up on your elbows until you feel a gentle stretch along your stomach muscles. Hold for 10 counts, then relax. Do 10 - 15 repetitions. IF THIS IS PAINFUL, TRY LYING FLAT ON YOUR STOMACH, INSTEAD. As the stretch becomes easier, try to slowly straighten your elbows to increase the stretch. You can also try studying in the above position.

• Oblique stretch - Sit or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a normal curve in the lower back, mid-back and neck. Slowly bend to one side until you feel a gentle stretch along the other side of your body. Hold for 10 counts, then relax. Do 10 - 15 repetitions on each side.

• Half Sit-up -Lie on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Reach for your knees raising head and shoulders off the floor. Continue to breathe. Relax to starting position. Perform 10 -15 repetitions.

Pectorals
• Stand with one foot in front of the other and a normal curve in your lower back, mid-back and neck. Bend your elbows to 90° and place your forearm(s) on the doorway wall(s). Slowly shift your weight to your lead leg until you feel a gentle stretch in the chest muscles. Hold 10 counts, then relax. Perform 10 - 15 repetitions on each side.

Hamstrings
• Seated toe touches - sit on the floor with both feet straight in front and both knees straight. Reach out to your toes and feel the muscle pull in back of your thighs. Always keep the knees as straight as possible, even if you don't touch the toes. Hold for 10 seconds and relax. Perform 10 repetitions.

Quadriceps
• Stand with a normal curve in the lower back, mid back and neck. Grab your foot and pull it behind your back, until you feel a gentle stretch along the front of your thigh (quadriceps). Hold for 10 counts, then relax. Perform 10 - 15 repetitions with each leg.

Summary
You are not alone if you suffer from back-related problems. Restoring your body to optimal conditioning with proper posture, exercise and prevention measures will help ensure an active lifestyle. Whether you're at work, home or play, take the time to protect your back from strain, fatigue and injury. Remember that preventing back injuries is a lot easier than correcting them. And, if you're having back pain, be sure to see your physician.