Sep 1, 2011 7:10 PM
Back pain is the most commonly reported pain condition in America. About 65 million Americans have had a recent episode of back pain, and 8% of all adults are so bothered by back pain that it limits their daily activities in some way.
Whether you already struggle with back pain or are trying to prevent back trouble, there are dozens of opportunities in your daily routine for you to protect your back -- or put it at risk.
You spend about a third of your life sleeping. One of the best ways to protect your back is with a mattress and sleep positions that support it, says Lauren Polivka, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Balance Gym in Washington, D.C. "If you don't have the right support system, you can set yourself up for injury."
Make bedtime a haven for your back by:
Instead, sleep either on your side or your back, using pillows for support. If you prefer your side, the best aid is a body pillow that can support your weight between your knees and help align your arms. Back sleepers should put a pillow between their knees.
Do you spend more than an hour a day in your car? You're not alone -- 90% of Americans commute by car, reporting an average of 90 minutes a day behind the wheel. Bad positioning in your vehicle can quickly add up to back pain. Here's how to make your commute less taxing on your back.
Many of us are desk jockeys. We sit through most of our day, often in the same position, hour after hour, talking on the phone and staring at computer screens. Is it any wonder we're stiff?
"Sitting hurts your back more than standing," says Trent Nessler, PT, DPT, MPT, a vice president with Champion Sports Medicine in Birmingham, Alabama. "That's because your legs are shock absorbers, and when you sit, you end up putting all that weight on your spine. Most of us let our chests fall forward and slump when we sit, which dramatically increases the pressure on the spine."
If you don't work at a desk and you stand or lift things a lot at work, then your job has its own set of back hazards. One of the most important things for someone who stands a lot, whether you're a grocery clerk or a college professor, is wearing the correct kind of shoe. "You want the right type of cushion and sole," says Polivka. "Not a Converse sneaker or a ballet flat with no support. You want a shoe that can cushion and absorb the forces coming out of the ground. Lots of companies now are making nice dress shoes that have arch support in the feet."
Whether you're delivering a lecture or ringing up groceries, you should also keep a small footrest near you, where you can put one foot up to unweight one side of the body, then switch.
Do a lot of lifting on the job? Read on for more back protection tips.
While working outside the home or inside the home, or both, many people spend a lot of their time bending and lifting -- whether they're grabbing a file, mopping a floor, or unloading a warehouse truck. A little-known fact: You can hurt yourself just as much while lifting something small as you can while hoisting a huge, heavy box. "I'll see people who've bent over to pick up a coin and they've thrown their back out," says Nessler.
Use the right form and technique to bend, lift, and reach. "When I check in at the doctor's office, I'll see a receptionist rummaging in a file cabinet below her, bending down at the waist with her hips straight," says Polivka. "It makes me cringe!"
There are three key "lift postures" that many physical therapists recommend:
"Some things, you just can't lift," says Polivka. "Know your limits." If you're using the right posture to lift something and still feel pain in your back or joints, stop lifting. Ask a second person for help. If you have to maneuver very heavy objects frequently, use a hand truck for assistance.
You can also utilize tools to help around the house. Try using knee mats for scrubbing floors or weeding the garden, paint rollers or dusters with extendable handles so you don't have to lift your arms awkwardly over your head to reach high spots, and a good old-fashioned step ladder. "Bring everything close to you before you move it," says Polivka. "Don't reach up to the top shelf of the china cabinet to pull down the heavy glass punch bowl you only use once a year for company. Get the stepladder or stepstool and get it close to you before you lift it and carry it down."