PREVENTION: Perform back strengthening or stretching exercises 2–3 times each week.
Move it! Back to Basics
Follow these tips to help prevent back pain
The back: A complex framework central to most dynamic movements and functions of the body.
The back is an intricate mess of vertebrae, nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments, so it’s no surprise that back pain rates high on the list of reasons people visit the doctor; with so many parts, it’s extremely susceptible to injury. In fact, according to a 2008 report by the CDC, there were more than 13 million annual physician visits for back symptoms. And according to the National Institutes of Health, 4 out of 5 Americans will suffer from disabling back pain during their lifetime.
Chronic back pain is also quite common, affecting more than 26 million Americans between the ages of 20–64, and it’s the leading cause of disability in Americans younger than 45, according to the American Pain Foundation. Worse yet, that same study found frequent sufferers of lower-back pain to be three times more likely to be in only fair or poor health and four times as likely to experience serious psychological distress than those without back pain.
Bottom line? Avoid it. Back pain affects your daily standard of living and can lead to a host of other problems. So how can you prevent it?
Excessive weight, especially around the waistline, can tax lower-back muscles, so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. Low-impact activities such as swimming, biking, walking or gentle stretching can increase your overall fitness level without straining your back. The most important muscles to strengthen to avoid back pain are the abdominals. “Core” exercises can strengthen your core muscles, including the abs, back and pelvis, and stretching often will avoid stiffness and injury.
Consuming healthy foods such as a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains provides substantial nutrition and energy, keeping your core and back muscles well fueled (healthy back muscles can help maintain and protect your spine). Reducing consumption of simple sugars and fat leads to a healthy weight. Vitamins and minerals are also important; calcium and vitamin D keep bones strong. And if you smoke, here’s yet another reason to quit: smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine and causes the spinal discs to degenerate.
Work It Out
Evaluate your workplace environment and the tasks you perform there. Though some duties may be unavoidable, try to reduce the frequency of repetitive tasks, decrease force and maintain a healthy posture. If you have an existing back problem, avoid unnecessary bending, twisting and reaching as these activities can aggravate injuries. If you sit or stand for an extended period, change your position frequently and stretch regularly.
Incorporating simple, conscientious thinking into your everyday actions can safeguard against back injury. For example, while sitting at your desk or computer, don’t hunch forward, and use a chair with good lumbar support at a height that is suitable for the task. Select a chair that adequately supports your back. While standing, keep your head up and stomach in. Whereas poor posture places stress on your back, good posture relaxes your muscles and requires minimal effort to balance your body. And for sleeping, go Goldilocks: choose a mattress that’s “just right”—not too soft, not too hard—and avoid positions and pillows that are harsh on the neck or back.
For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.
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