Are you one of the 80% of Americans who suffer from Low Back Pain (LBP)?
Having experienced LBP, I understand the things that can cause strain. As a Medical Exercise Specialist(MES), I teach my clients how to reduce their episodes of LBP and become more mindful of their spine.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, most LBP is caused by overuse, strain, or injury but if the pain lasts more than a few days or gets worse, it may be advisable to make an appointment with your health care provider.
Our spine consists of 29 vertebrae that protect our spinal cord and gives us stabiltiy and mobility. The 7 cervical vertabrae have tremendous mobility. The 12 thoracic vertebrae’s primary movement is the rotation. The 5 lumbar vertebrae bear most of our weight, and the 5 sacral vertebrae are fused and at the base of the spine. The coccyx is know as the tail bone. Between each vertebral body is a disk which offers the spine shock absorption and protection. At birth, 80% of the disc was composed of water but dehydrates as we age. One the end of each vertebral body is an end plate that is made of cartilage. When an end plate wears out or is damaged, the vertebrae become exposed to degenerative changes.
Our ligaments and tendons hold the spine together while our muscles enable movement. It is indeed a wonderful mechanism!
The following are four things you can do to protect your back from pain, strain or injury.
ONE: Learn what Neutral spine means and lie, sit and stand with a neutral spine.
Neutral spine is the position between an arched back and a flexed posture. Lie down with your knees bent. Notice the curve of your lower back. Press your belly button in towards your spine. You are now in a fIexed posture. Lift your belly toward the ceiling and feel the arch in your back. You are now in an extended posture. Do this several times to feel the extremes between the two positions. Now, relax in a comfortable position between these two postures. This posture is your neutral spine. This exercise is also great to create awareness and mobility in your spine.
Try this while sitting and standing. At this moment I am checking my neutral spine since I’ve been sitting for 54 minutes which brings me to our next point.
TWO: Identify and Avoid repetitive movements such as prolonged periods of sitting.
Compression forces while sitting are 40% greater than when we stand upright. If you sit a lot and are experiencing low back strain, then take several stand breaks throughout the day. Determine your sitting tolerance. Sitting tolerance is the amount of time you can sit without feeling decrepit when you stand up. I rarely sit for longer than an hour. I set a timer to remind myself to take a break. If I am in an airplane seat for over an hour, I remind myself to find and sit with a neutral spine.
Some other forms of repetitive movements might be gardening, shopping, leaning to one side while driving or a repetitive sport. I used to have a job that required a lot of desk work. I was twisting and straining my back to retrieve files in my right-side drawer which caused strain on my left lower back. I switched my files to the drawer on my left which eliminated the strain. Later, when I felt the strain on the other side, I switched them again.
THREE: Use proper lifting and carrying techniques.
Most of us likely know the benefits of lifting with our thighs and should be keen on it. Why don’t we do it? I was giving this demonstration in a class using a live model. I gave her the instructions of proper lifting, and she defaulted to back-strain-lift technique. I believe we use improper lifting posture because our thigh muscles are weak. I teach and give all my clients routine squatting exercises. Why? It protects our back! A proper lift requires that we squat, reach for the object bringing it as close to our torso as possible, and use our legs to stand back up.
While carrying objects, especially for extended periods such as traveling, try to distribute the weight load evenly.
FOUR: Exercise to increase circulation and nutrients to your spine.
Our spinal discs need hydration and the best way to hydrate the spine is exercise. Start where you are and build up your exercise tolerance. Increase by 10% per week. Walking is great. For less impact try swimming or a recumbent bike.
These tips practiced consistently will reduce your incidence of low back pain. By taking care of your spine in this way, you will give it the care and nourishment that it needs to take care of you. Best of health!
(1) Rubin DI. Epidemiology and Risk Factors For Spine Pain. Neurol Clin. 2007;25(2):353–371. [PubMed]
(3.) The slides for this article are from the Back In Action “30 Days To A Stronger Back” by the American Academy of Health, Fitness and Rehabilitation Professionals (AAHFRP). This program is being taught throughout the nation. For a class near you contact 1-888-610-0923
(4.) The exercises in this article are not to take the place of proper medical care and supervision. Please check with your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program.