Back Pain: Not Only Common, But Preventable
Back pain is second only to headaches as the most common pain complaint. Back injuries, in fact, are a major cause of disability, costing the nation up to $50 billion a year.With such a hefty price tag, it’s ironic that many episodes of back pain can be prevented with some simple maneuvers, including:
- regular exercise to improve fitness and help you lose weight
- stretching your back to warm up muscles and increase flexibility
- strength training to make you stronger and reduce your chance of falling (especially when you strengthen your abdominal muscles)
Doing a few floor exercises before work is a good way to start the day. Some back-strengthening exercises include knee-to-shoulder stretches, half sit-ups, and leg lifts. After work, swimming, bike riding, or other non-weight-bearing activities are good workout choices. Avoid exercises in which you impact on hard surfaces (such as tennis). Be aware of your back throughout the day. Try to maintain the spine’s normal curves while watching your posture, both standing and sitting. Sitting, in fact, is more stressful than standing because it flattens the curve in your lower back. If you work at a desk, use a back support (or rolled-up towel) and rest your feet flat on the floor with knees at the same level as your hips. Make sure your computer station is at the recommended height, and take frequent breaks.
Also, guard your movements and use proper body mechanics. Avoid actions that cause you to twist or over-stretch your muscles. Be sure to lift with your legs, not with your back, bending at the knees until you are level with the object to be lifted. Before you lift something, decide where you will set it down. Push rather than pull. Braces and corsets can provide support to the back, when worn properly, but most experts recommend wearing them only for short periods or for back-straining activities. Finally, if you sustain a minor back injury, be patient. If you follow your physician’s recommendations for conservative treatment, your back pain is likely to be gone within two weeks; by six weeks, 80% of back pain episodes are resolved.
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