A few lifestyle modifications can do wonders for your aching back — article by Scott Keith
Posted May 01 2010 12:44am
Think about the amount of time you spend each day at work, twirling the mouse and typing away on your computer keyboard. Then you go home, find the easy chair in the front room, and relax until the next day. All of this activity…yes, even lounging around in front of the TV set…can do a number on your back.
Back pain is a growing problem in our society, partly because we’re more sedentary, according to a board-certified physician who has practiced medicine for over 30 years. Dr. Dave David, in an interview with Men and Health: It’s a Guy Thing, says we’re less apt to get injuries or back strain if we’re active, because our muscles and ligaments are more limber.
Statistics are dramatic. David says a study he recently read shows 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. According to a survey, adds David, the percentage of people with lower back and neck pain (pain that could cause impairment) more than doubled between 1997 and the middle of this decade. Back pain can strike any age group and it’s the number one complaint David gets from his patients.
A good place to start protecting your back is at the office or home computer. Davis says a lot depends on how you sit in front of the screen. He says slouching (not sitting ergonomically) can affect your back. “The way you sit has a big impact, since your muscles in the back are used for stability.” You need to sit up against the back of the chair. According to David, there are other steps you can take to baby your back: Stand up, now and then, and stretch; move side to side at the hips and occasionally bend over to touch your toes. Even twisting side to side in your chair will help keep your muscles limber.
Back protection doesn’t end at the office. Once you get home, consider the furnishings around you. Have furniture that is comfortable for your back. David says sitting in a reclined position can provide full body and lumbar support, which helps your surrounding muscles to relax. “It’s actually more alleviating to the body, if you will, then lying flat,” says David, adding that sitting with the legs up really takes stress off the lower back.
When it comes to your bedroom, it’s not necessarily true that a hard mattress is always good for your back. “What you really need is something that supports. What you don’t want is something you sink into,” says David.
Consider investing in a deep tub. If you have on-going back pain, due to muscle spasms or muscle contractions, a hot tub, or deep tub, can provide heat; heated jets of water can help loosen muscles. David says you don’t want to use heat for acute back injuries; in these cases, it’s better to use ice, in the first 24 to 48 hours, to reduce inflammation.
Check the height of your tables. They should be normal height. Bar-height tables, says David, don’t allow you to anchor your feet. He says these trendy pieces of furniture can put added strain on your back while you sit.
Carpets can do wonders for your back. David says hard floors can lack shock absorption beneath the feet. And don’t forget to store heavy and common items at arm-level. This reduces lifting or bending.
Davis stresses the importance of stretching, noting that it’s best to stretch after your body has warmed up. Says Davis, “It’s like taking a rubber band out of the freezer. You pull on it and it will snap.” Throughout the day, be careful about abrupt lateral (side-to-side) movements and lift with your legs, not your back. Also, carry a box, or similar object, close to your body. For backpack lovers, try to distribute the weight evenly.
If you want to give your back some tender loving care, David says develop a good balance of exercise and rest. Don’t forget obesity: “Watch your weight. The more weight you put on, you’re going to put more stress on your back.”