Anyone who has suffered a back injury quickly realizes how much we rely on a strong healthy back to do pretty much anything. That was the place I found myself in about a year ago when I felt a sudden pain in my lower back while doing burpees in a fitness class (I have a love/hate relationship with that exercise to this day).
I suffered through a few more minutes of class before I told the teacher I couldn’t continue on and shuffled my way out the door. Suddenly, everything became increasingly difficult to do – walking hurt, getting into my car hurt, sitting hurt… bending over? Forget about it.
I didn’t waste time scheduling an appointment with my doctor who prescribed several weeks of visits with a rehabilitation therapist. The therapist gave me a sequence of core strengthening exercises to do, and luckily, after a few weeks, she and I both felt my back was recovered enough that I didn’t need to keep coming in. This whole experience got me wondering what I could do differently to prevent this from happening again.
I contacted the helpful folks over at Banner – University Medicine Rehabilitation Institute and according to Brittany Milne, one of the physical therapists there, “Back pain is the number one diagnosis we see.” She then helped provide 5 tips for keeping our backs “happy” and feeling good.
- While sleeping – If your back is hurting while lying down on your side, sleep with a pillow between your knees and under knees while on your back. Placing one under your pelvis when on your stomach can also offer relief. It really just depends on your preferred sleeping position.
- Daily exercise – Core stabilization, strengthening the muscles in your stomach and sides, is very important for preventing spine stress. Located under the obliques (which run down along either side of your abdomen), the transverse abdominals are the deepest of the abdominal muscles and wrap around your spine for protection and stability. “You engage this muscle by gently pulling your belly button towards the spine,” says Milne. Practice while lying on your back first and then use when walking, lifting or during exercise, for instance. When strengthened, these muscles act “like a corset,” pulling everything in. From personal experience I can attest that Pilates has been great for making me more aware of how to properly use my abdominal muscles.
- Workstation evaluation – Given that most of us spend at least eight hours a day at work, having an ergonomic assessment of your workstation is something you may want to consider. Most companies have someone who can do this for you, so ask around. At work and at home, you’ll want to be sure to shift positions often, throughout the day.
- Footwear consideration– Shoes need to be supportive and more rigid through back/heel region. The middle of the shoe should enclose around your foot completely with fastening across the instep so your foot does not slip when walking. There are various foot types that require different support through arch and instep. The wrong kind of shoes put a great deal of stress on your lower spine.
- Body mechanics – This includes lifting, carrying and bending correctly. Always be sure to use your core muscles when bending and be sure to lift with your legs, not the back.
So, bottom line, it really isn’t that hard to keep your back strong and pain free. You just have to make the conscientious decision to do so. Don’t take your back for granted until an injury sets you back like it did with me.