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Everyday Back Care

In their lifetime, more than 80% of adults will have back pain. Once a person has injured their back, they are more likely to reinjure it and have more severe pain as a result. There are many things we can do in our everyday life to care for our backs.

Sit Well

Whether you're in class, at home studying, or just watching TV, the way you sit is important for back health.  

  • Try to sit towards the edge of the chair to maintain an upright posture and reduce tendency of slouching
  • Try to get up and move for at least 5 minutes every hour.  If you're sitting for a long time studying, use this as an excuse to take a break, get a drink, and stretch yourself out.

Sleep Well

Many people have back pain as a result of sleeping with their body in an awkward position.  The following can help you wake up pain free:

  • Use the right number of pillows.  When laying on your back your chin should be at least an inch away from your chest.  When on your side your head should not slope down to the bed. 
  • Have a firm, but comfortable bed. The old trick of placing a board under the mattress when it sags is no longer recommended.  The problem is that the top layer is still worn out and not able to support your back. 
  • Before you get up in the morning, stretch yourself out in bed. Stretch your arms above your head, your legs, and your torso.  This can be a good start to a pain free day!

The Right Shoes

  • Thin, flat shoes such as flip-slops and ballet flats may increase back pain by allowing the body to be jarred when walking on hard surfaces. 
  • High heels can cause an unnatural curve and compression of the lower spine leading to numbness, tingling, and pain in the back and lower limbs. 
  • A good shoe will fit your foot well, be able to absorb some of the force of walking, and support the arches of your foot.  A 1/2 inch heel or less is recommended. 
  • Make sure your shoes have adequate grip to prevent falls, especially in winter.  Falls are a large cause of broken bones and back pain.

Move Objects Safely

Whether you're helping your friends move or shifting boxes at your job, there is always a potential risk to your back.  There are some ways you can manage this risk, but it is always important to listen to your body, and know your own limits. 

  • Push, don't pull, heavy objects.  Even if the thing you move is on wheels you can still injure yourself.  Pushing uses your leg muscles and takes some of the strain off of your back.  
  • Face what you want to move, don't twist.  Twisting your body can cause problems with the tendons in your back and put more pressure on the spine. Instead, face an object squarely when you go to pick it up.  
  • Hold objects close to the body. This helps to distribute the weight more evenly, and takes the pressure off your spine to support the object. 
  • Lift with your legs, not your back.  This can mean that you have to squat down to pick up the objects.  Rise slowly with your knees and don't pull on the base of your spine. 

Everyday Life

Keeping your body fit and eating well can decrease your chance of having a serious back injury, however, whether you're working out, shoveling, gardening, or just sitting in the car on road trip, good posture is important for back health.  Here's an easy way to check your posture: 

Check your posture

  1. Stand with your back to a wall.  Press your heels, backside, shoulders, and head against the wall.  
  2. Slide your hand behind your lower back.  There should be just enough room for a hand. 
  3. Make adjustments as needed.  This may include tightening your stomach muscles or relaxing your shoulders. 

If you do have back pain

Visit your doctor, consider getting a massage, or seeing a chiropractor or physiotherapist.  Student Health has doctors, nurses, a massage therapist, a physiotherapist and a chiropractor available for appointments.  

If back pain occurs along with any of the following conditions, see a doctor immediately:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Inflammation or swelling on the back
  • Constant back pain that doesn't ease during rest
  • Pain that travels to the chest
  • Pain down the legs or below the knees
  • Recent trauma or injury to the back
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Inability to pass urine
  • Numbness around the genitals, buttocks or anus

Is your backpack right for you?

Over 80% of adults will experience back pain in their life. For many students their bags may be the problem. Are you one of them?

  1. Are you wearing both straps on your shoulders? If you have a messenger bag, are you wearing that strap across your chest?
    NO? Wearing your bag unevenly on your body can cause pain, and a permanent curve in your spine.
  2. Does your bag fit you? (Close to the body, not hanging more than 10 cm [4”] below the belt line?)
    NO?Adjustable straps are important for comfort & fit. If your bag is hanging low or pulling on your arms, you may have the wrong sized bag.
  3. Does your bag weigh less than 10% of your body weight?
    NO?The average textbook weighs 3-5lbs. If you carry more than 2 texts, chances are you are straining your back. A waist belt or wheeled bag can help reduce back strain.
  4. Are the straps on your bag at least 5cm (2”) wide?
    NO? Thin straps can cut off circulation causing numbness and tingling to your hands, arms, and neck.
  5. Is your bag packed well, with heavy items closest to your body?
    NO?Carrying heavier items closer to you reduces back strain. Try to keep items secured in compartments to prevent moving and back tension.

Congratulations! if you answered YES to all of the above questions your bag is ideal for a healthy back! If you answered No to any of these questions, it may be time for a change in your bag.

Tips to Minimize Back Pain

Here are some tips for preventing or minimizing the occurrence of back pain:

  • If you are re-starting an exercise routine, start low and slow. See how your body adapts before increasing time or intensity.
  • Listen to your body, and don't push through pain during any exercise or activities.

  • Set up your work and home office ergonomically. Use a small lumbar support at your waist level when sitting, feet flat on the floor with the knees at a 90 degree angle. The middle of the computer monitor should be at eye level, and the keyboard just above your lap with the arms at 90 degrees or a little lower.

  • Get up and move. Do not sit for more than one hour at a time. Take one minute each hour to stretch a different part of your body.

  • Use good body mechanics when lifting or moving objects. Avoid bending over at the waist to pick things up; use your legs — never your back.

  • If you have to perform heavy manual labor, take frequent breaks, and stretch throughout the day.

  • Don't be a weekend warrior. Take time to stretch every day in preparation for your favorite weekend sports.

  • A tight neck and hamstrings also put unneeded pressure on the back. Make sure to stretch all areas of the body.

  • Strong core muscles help support your back. Simple balance exercises such as standing on one leg for one to two minutes will work your abdominal muscles without the need for sit-ups.

Should I Use Heat or Ice for Acute Injuries?

Heat or cold therapy works by stimulating your body's own healing force. For instance, heat dilates the blood vessels, stimulates blood circulation, and reduces muscle spasms. In addition, heat alters the sensation of pain. You can use either dry heat -- such as heating pads or heat lamps -- or moist heat -- such as warm baths or heated wash cloths.

Cold compresses reduce swelling by constricting blood vessels. While cold packs may be uncomfortable at first, they can numb deep pain.

If the new injury is red, swollen, or inflamed, then cooling the injury may help prevent inflammation. You can use an ice pack or a pack of frozen vegetables or fruit for 20 minutes. Treat it immediately with RICE -- rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

References

  1. American Physical Therapy Association (201.2). Low back pain: management and prevention. (APTA Publication). Alexandria, VA: American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
  2. Back Care Canada. (2011). Key facts about back and/or leg pain. Retrieved October 17, 2012, from http://www.backcarecanada.ca/
  3. Fishman, S.M.D. (2012). Back pain Q&A. Retrieved 10/15, 2012, from http://health.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/pain/back/back-pain-q-and-a.htm.
  4. Health Resources Publishing. (2011). Shape up before you pack it up. 
  5. wise backpack usage. Retrieved October 13, 2012, from http://www.wellness-junction.com/
  6. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2012). Prevent back pain with good posure. Retrieved October 16, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/back-pain.
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