Preventing Spine and Back Problems
Recurring back pain resulting from improper body mechanics or other nontraumatic causes is often preventable by, doing exercises that don’t jolt or strain the back, maintaining correct posture, and lifting objects properly.
Many work-related injuries are caused or aggravated by stressors such as:
- Heavy lifting
- Contact stress (repeated or constant contact between soft body tissue and a hard or sharp object, such as resting a wrist against the edge of a hard desk or repeated tasks using a hammering motion)
- Repetitive motion
- Awkward posture
Smoking has been shown to contribute to many cases of lower back problems later in life, and is often associated with people developing back problems earlier in life than expected (at a younger age than normal). First, it can increase the risk of developing back problems by denying nutrition to the discs. This is caused by the carbon monoxide found in cigarettes, which also decreases the amount of oxygen in your blood. Because they have no capillaries, your spinal discs are the largest structures in the human body that rely on osmosis for oxygen delivery, so it is very important that they receive as much oxygen in the blood as possible. This lack of nutrients will also cause discs to become more brittle making smokers more at risk for disc ruptures. Second, many of the other chemicals in cigarettes, including nicotine, have been shown to be toxic to spinal disc cells in laboratory experiments.
Obesity is a major problem today. Not only does it affect the cardiovascular and endocrine systems, but it also affects your skeletal system. The skeletal system is made to support the weight of your body. A lack of exercise may decrease the tone of the muscles in the lower back and cause the pelvis to tilt too far forward causing severe pain.
Ergonomics is a set of principles used in designing furniture and tools to protect the body from injury. Applying ergonomics at home and in the workplace can greatly reduce the risk of back injury and help maintain a healthy back. More companies and homebuilders are promoting ergonomically designed tools, products, workstations, and living space to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury and pain.
Back Belts: The use of wide elastic belts that can be tightened to “pull in” lumbar and abdominal muscles to prevent low back pain remains controversial. A landmark study of the use of lumbar support or abdominal support belts worn by persons who lift or move merchandise found no evidence that the belts reduce back injury or back pain. The 2-year study, reported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, found no statistically significant difference in either the incidence of workers’ compensation claims for job-related back injuries or the incidence of self-reported pain among workers who reported they wore back belts daily compared to those workers who reported never using back belts or reported using them only once or twice a month.
Although there have been anecdotal case reports of injury reduction among workers using back belts, many companies that have back belt programs also have training and ergonomic awareness programs. The reported injury reduction may be related to a combination of these or other factors.
Quick Tips to a Healthier Back
Ask your physician or orthopedist for a list of low-impact exercises appropriate for your age and designed to strengthen lower back and abdominal muscles. Following any period of prolonged inactivity, begin a program of regular low-impact exercises including:
- Speed walking
- Stationary bike riding
30 minutes a day of these types of activities can increase muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga can also help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture.
Ways to Improve or Maintain a Healthy Back:
- Don’t forget to stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.
- Don’t slouch when sitting or standing
- At work or home, make sure your work surface is set at a comfortable height.
- Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position and height for the task. Keep your shoulders back. Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around the office or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of your back can provide some lumbar support. If you must sit for a long period of time, rest your feet on a low stool or a stack of books.
- When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet. Your back supports weight most easily when curvature is reduced.
- Wear good shoes.
- Sleep on your side to reduce any curve in your spine. Always sleep on a firm surface.
- Ask for help when transferring an ill or injured family member from a reclining to a sitting position or when moving the patient from a chair to a bed.
- Don’t try to lift too heavy objects. Try to lift with your knees, pull in your stomach muscles, and keep your head down and in line with your straight back. Always keep the object close to your body. And do not twist when lifting.
- Proper nutrition and diet reduces and prevents excessive weight, especially weight around the waistline that taxes lower back muscles. A diet with sufficient daily intake of phosphorus, calcium and vitamin D promotes new bone growth.
- If you smoke, quit now! Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine and causes the spinal discs to degenerate.
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