Conquering low back pain

A long winter of inactivity followed by a burst of spring yard work can be just what the body and soul needs-- that is if we don't over do it. Unfortunately many of us will over do it finding ourselves left with low back pain that just won't quit.

The sad part, we could enjoy a burst of outdoor activity without injuring our backs had we just taken the time to lift, bend, reach, and stoop correctly. Dr. David Imrie, author of Goodbye Backache reminds us that ''exercises are boring but, then, so is lying in bed with a backache.'' Remembering good back safety in daily life is important as most of our back problems stem from poor habits.

Here are some back safety tips to remember today as you tackle spring yard work and every day all year.

Use the pelvic tilt intermittently throughout the day in your activities. Stand with your back to the wall, heels a few inches from the wall. Pull in your stomach muscles slightly; soften the knees and press the low back, shoulders and head against the wall and look straight ahead. Then allow a small gap to occur behind the low back, keeping abdominals pulled in and up. By doing this several times throughout your day, it allows the back to exercise and relax while you're working.

Learn to sit with your knees even with or higher than your hips, with a slight low back curve-- chin in, ribs up, shoulders centered, and no slouching. Use a chair that has a firm seat and supports the low back, no arm rests. Sit close to your work so you don't need to lean in to it. Some experts agree that crossing the legs is okay as it puts you in a natural pelvic tilt. Do what feels comfortable and avoid long periods of leg crossing. When driving, sit close enough to the wheel so that you are not reaching and keep the hands low on the wheel to rest the arms and upper back. Recliners are back killers.

Sleep or lie in a position to maintain the natural curves in the spine. Use a fairly firm mattress, but too firm doesn't allow heavier or larger parts of the body to sink into it causing unnatural curvature. Try not to lie on your stomach as this too distorts the natural curve.

When reaching overhead, use both hands rather than one. If you're reaching to take something down or put it up, use a stable stool so you don't have to lift above chest level. When reaching forward try to be as close as possible to the shelf, wall or work station that you are using.

Relearn bending techniques. Most of us stoop down or bend from the hips or waist. Try to keep your back straight with your shoulders over your hips and use your knees to get you down and up. Bend with one knee in front of, or lower than the other. Kneel on one or use your arms to help you get back up. Do not try to lift items that you are not strong enough to lift. Improper lifting puts a tremendous compressive force on the discs of the lower back and will weaken them with repeated abuse. Be sure to use the proper bending techniques when lifting.

When carrying, be sure the item is close to your body and the load is balanced. If you must carry a briefcase or shoulder bag, switch sides and try to give equal time to each shoulder. Back packs are ideal as they balance the load. Be sure to maintain proper posture while carrying.

Just as with front wheel drive cars, it is easier to pull something than to push it. Large items that are not too heavy, but too bulky to pick up, are better pulled. Once again, use good mechanics.

Lifting belts are okay. Don't expect a belt to take the place of good abdominal musculature that naturally keeps our back strong-- and don't use a belt following a serious strain or injury and keep lifting!

Remember, it's the every day stuff that adds up to good back health. Recovery and healing take time. Even if you have injured your back, you can live, work and play without pain. Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website April 13, 1999

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