Get Back to Basics

For a part of our bodies that does so much for us, we don’t show our backs much love. Crawling and running, twisting and turning, bending and stretching and, worst of all, LIFTING! Through it all, your back is always there for you and you probably never think about it … until it starts hurting. Through overuse, poor posture, or injury due to improper lifting or straining, more than 80 percent of people in the U.S. will experience back pain or injury in their lifetimes.

So what can you do about it? Obviously, you want to prevent injury and overuse. You can reduce or eliminate many of the causes of back pain with a few basic steps. First, do your best to maintain good posture while sitting, standing and walking.  A quick check to see how close you are to good posture is to stand against a wall with your head, shoulders and hips touching the wall. If this feels awkward or uncomfortable, then you’ve got some work to do!

Another important part of good back health is exercise. A program that strengthens the core back and abdominal muscles gives your back and spine the strength and stability needed to function properly. And it makes good posture feel “right.” Practicing yoga is one of the best things you can do for your back. It improves balance and flexibility while strengthening those core muscles. Just be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Excess weight also puts a strain on our backs, so along with exercise, be sure to eat healthy.

The cause of most back injuries is improper lifting technique. While you want to be careful and not lift excessive weight, even a light load can cause problems if not lifted correctly. Be sure to bend your knees and lift with your legs, not just your back. Hold the weight close to your body no matter how light it may seem, and avoid turning or twisting while lifting or carrying things.

No matter how well we take care of our backs, most of us will experience back pain or injury at some point. So what then? For most minor back pain and injuries, heat or ice or a combination can help relieve minor pain. Rest and gentle stretching, followed by gradual exercise to build up the back strength, will usually get you and your back feeling better.

If the pain persists or the injury is debilitating, you may need professional assistance. Ongoing pain, pain accompanied by nausea or fever, or pain with numbness in your leg or foot may require a doctor visit. There are many diagnoses and treatment options. Just don’t be rushed into a diagnosis through imaging, such as a CT scan, X-ray or MRI. These are effective diagnosis tools in some cases, but it is best to try other options first and avoid exposure to the radiation required for imaging diagnoses. Talk to your doctor about all options available to you for diagnosis and treatment.  

As you work toward good back health, be patient — it can take a while to get used to healthy changes. If you start improving your posture, exercising, eating healthy and lifting properly, your back will thank you every day!