Prevention

Your susceptibility to back problems can be reduced by first recognising and then adjusting a few personal health habits:

  1. Tobacco use can increase your risk for back problems. Carbon monoxide produced from cigarette smoking can impede the delivery of oxygen to your blood supply. Nicotine can cause small blood vessel spasm which can reduce blood supply to working tissues even further. Nicotine may also break down collagen which is the protein that holds your connective tissue together. This can therefore lead to increased vulnerability to soft tissue injury in your lower back.
  2. Obesity can add to the posture load of your lower back
  3. A poor diet can contribute to weakness, a loss of endurance and chemical changes that may impair back function.
  4. If you lack a basic level of strength, flexibility and endurance you can be vulnerable to back injury and can reduce your ability to recover from back problems.
  5. Chronic, emotional stress can increase nerve activity to muscles, which in turn can create tension in the muscles. This increased nerve activity can increase fatigue and decrease flexibility. This can create a vicious circle. Stress contributing to a back problem which in turn, adds to the stress.

PROPER LIFTING

Knowing the proper way to lift heavy objects can help in the prevention of lower back injuries. Of all occupations, garbage collectors have the highest number of back injury claims, hence the origins of their training credo: "Lift, twist, heave and scream." You, on the other hand, are not training for the day when the 50-pound-plastic-sack heave becomes an Olympic-event. Instead of twisting your back with a heavy object, turn your entire body. Instead of heaving, walk to the destination.

In the past the pelvic tilt method of lifting with a flat back was always suggested to avoid back injury. Recently, suggestions have been made to improve techniques for heavy lifting. These methods are used by Olympic weight lifters. Lifting heavy loads below chest level tends to bend your spine forward which then puts your back in an unsafe position. Using these new suggestions maintains or slightly increases your normal curve in the lower back which will help to balance the load. It keeps your back in itís strongest and safest position when lifting.

Lifting Heavy Loads Below Chest Level:

With your feet apart and one foot slightly ahead of the other, arch your back inward and lock it with muscle power. Tuck in your chin and stick out your chest to help arch your back. Squat down to the load, grasp the load securely. Curl it to your body. Keep your chin tucked and lift smoothly. Donít lift with any sudden or quick pulling movement. Keep the load close to your body which will decrease the stress to your back. If you hold the load away from you at armís length, it can increase the load on your spine by ten times. Remember to keep that locked position as you put the load down.

Lifting Heavy Loads Above Chest Level:

Lifting above chest level often causes too much of a backward bending load on your spine. To lift above the chest safely, tighten your abdominal muscles during the lift. This will increase the pressure in your abdomen which causes much of the load to be placed on these muscles in your abdomen instead of on the spine! Most back support belts, sometimes worn by people while lifting heavy objects; follow this basic principle of increased abdominal pressure.

Always avoid lifting over your head, lifting while twisting or lifting a load over an obstruction. The word ergonomics refers to the design of the lifting task. You must always be thinking about the ergonomics of lifting any load to avoid back injury. Improper lifting is a major risk factor and unfortunately one that most of us are guilty of. Awareness of proper lifting techniques will give you an increased chance to maintain a healthy back.

SITTING

Many people believe that sitting is easier on their back than standing or lifting, however this is not necessarily true. In todayís world more and more people are spending time at work sitting which is regarded as a major reason for the increase in back pain. While at work we should consider doing some brief stabilizations to minimize the risk of stress to our back.

  1. The standing back bend is done in a standing position. With your hands on your lower back, lean backward gently. Do not tip your head backward. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds. This should be done three times at least every hour and more often if you are sitting a lot of the time, if you have poor posture, if you are driving for a long period of time or if you tend to do lots of bending and lifting.
  2. The hamstring muscles can become quite tight from sitting, bending and lifting activities on the job. The hamstrings are the muscles in the back of the thigh that run from your buttocks to the back of your knee. Tight hamstrings can limit the mobility of your lower back. Frequently stretching the hamstrings can significantly reduce stress on the back. You can do this in a standing or sitting position. Lean against a solid object, bend your leg up, grasp your thigh, hold your thigh as you straighten at the knee, stretching the hamstrings at the back of your thigh. Hold the stretch for about 5-10 seconds on each leg.
  3. Flexion stretches can aid people who spend a lot of time standing, especially on a cement floor or performing tasks overhead. These types of activities tend to cause compression and overwork the muscles at the base of the spine. You should sit and bend your chest down to your thighs to stretch the muscles and unload the joints at the base of the spine. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds. You can do this in a chair or curl forward as you crouch on the floor, supporting yourself with your arms.

Sitting puts tremendous pressure on the low back. Driving is even worse because road vibration is transmitted through to the spine. Avoid sitting for prolonged periods. Take frequent breaks to stand up and stretch backwards a few times to reverse the curve in the back.

Donít slump as this puts undue stress on your back by overstretching muscles and ligaments. Even in a chair with good lumbar support, the natural tendency is to slump forward as the back muscles fatigue. It is essential to maintain the curve in the low back either by using a rolled up towel or a lumbar support placed at the beltline. Sit with your pelvis against the back rest and with feet flat on the floor in a chair with arm rests.

The ideal office chair will have an adjustable height, adjustable armrests, and an adjustable seat pad and seat back. The height should be such that your knees are level with or just slightly below the level of your hips. This will help take the pressure off your lower back. The lower border of the seat back should fall just above the belt line. The arm rests should be set so that you can comfortably rest your forearms on them while keeping your elbows bent to 90 degrees.

STANDING

Avoid standing for long periods.

Try to keep the normal curves in your back at all times. High heels may cause the low back to arch excessively. Wear comfortable shoes with good arch supports.

Shift positions frequently and rest one foot on a low stool or shelf, where possible, lean against something.

Keep your work close to you and at a comfortable height.

SLEEPING

Do not sleep on your stomach, as it can arch your back.

Sleep on a mattress that is comfortable and does not sag. The natural curves in your back and neck should be supported.

When lying on your back, use a flat pillow to support your neck and one or two pillows under the knees help to support the low back. When lying on your side, place one pillow between your knees.

When arising, roll onto your side and push up with your arms.