Back in Action / Maintaining a Healthy Back

Have you ever found yourself complaining of back pain, or describe yourself as “having a bad back?” If so, you are not alone. Current research indicates more than 65 million Americans suffer from low-back pain every year. Back pain is one of the most common reasons for visits to the doctor, and 50% of all individuals who suffer from an episode of low-back pain will have another occurrence within 1 year (American Association of Neurological Surgeons).  Whether acute or chronic, the likelihood of encountering back problems is quite high. To decrease your chance of becoming another statistic, consider what’s best for an aching back.

Causes of Discomfort

Back pain can result from muscle strains or spasms, joint disorders, prolonged sitting or standing, repetitive bending or twisting, muscle imbalances, overuse, dis-use, improper lifting, weight gain or direct trauma. If you injure your back, immediately stop what you are doing. Rest and apply ice to the affected area (15-20 minute bouts) for the first 48 hours. After 2 days, apply periodic sessions of heat.

For general pain, approximately 90% of individuals experience relief with rest, ice, heat, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, stretching and back exercises. To keep pressure off the spine, take a daily back break! Extend the spine to a neutral position by lying flat on your back with a pillow under your knees. Relax!

If you experience intense pain, weakness, tingling, loss of bladder control or numbness running down an arm or leg, you may have a pinched nerve, herniated disc or sciatica. In this case, you should seek medical attention.

Preventative Measures

First and foremost, you must remove the movement flaws that cause back pain throughout the day. For example: when lifting a heavy object, bend the knees and keep the back straight. Avoid unsupported forward flexion (don’t reach by leaning too far forward at the hips or waist). For repetitive lifting and bending, use a “golfer’s lift”. Reach down with one leg extended backward as a counterweight to forward flexion. Pretend you are extracting a golf ball from the cup.

When performing monotonous chores (gardening raking, vacuuming, etc.) use your core muscles for spinal stabilization. Firmly contract the abdominals without holding your breath. Never let the belly sag as it can pull the spine out of alignment.

To promote muscular development, increase circulation and speed the release of “feel-good” endorphins, include walking in your daily routine. Walking is one of the best, non-jarring exercises you can include for back health.

Yoga and Pilate’s exercises promote balance, strength and flexibility. Significant research indicates both forms of exercise provide benefits for individuals with chronic back pain.

To stretch the low-back muscles, give yourself a reclining hug. Lie on the floor or on a firm mattress. Gently pull both knees into the chest while simultaneously bringing your nose up toward the knees. Repeat as often as you like!

Another good stretch is the “Spinal Rock” or “Cat and Camel”. Kneel on your hands and knees. Inhale as you arch your back (hyper-extend), drop the belly and gaze toward the tip of the nose. Exhale as you round the back while pulling the abdominals in and tailbone under. Slowly alternate each position at least five times.

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