According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, up to 80 percent of people experience low back pain at some point in life.
The most common cause of low back pain is lower back injury. Among the most frequently reported here are sprains and strains, disc rupture, nerve compression and other types of a traumatic back injury.
Of course, if you are already injured and in pain, the last thing you want to do is stop to learn how it happened. You just want to feel better fast. So we recommend that you want to read this article instead.
But if your back is healing or healthy, this article will give you six surefire ways to avoid lower back injury in the future.
A strong back is a resilient back. To that end, while exercise during recovery from a lower back injury can be beneficial, waiting until then is technically too late.
For best results, you want to start exercising while your back feels great.
As Harvard Health explains, low back pain flare-ups are a sign you need to start exercising.
Harvard back pain experts say the type of exercise you do should correspond to the stage of healing you are in. For this, it is smart to talk with your doctor to get personalized fitness guidance for the type of back pain you are dealing with.
But always start with stretching. Limber up and warm-up before moving on to any weight-bearing or more intense back strengthening exercises. Harvard experts say gentle yoga is always a good place to start for warm-up stretching and improving flexibility.
From there, strengthening the muscles in the center of your body (your “core”) will play a central role in maintaining lower back health.
The days when the term “ergonomics” was still a trendy buzz-word are long gone. Today, it is one of those words most of us hear – and use – with slightly glazed eyes.
But talk about sit-stand work stations and blue light screen glare, and the conversation will likely turn lively once again.
It all matters. How you sit matters. How you stand matters. The type of light your eyes are taking in matters. Your ergonomics at work, at home and in the car can all contribute to a relaxed, easy movement or a stiff, tense, tired frame that becomes rigid and injury-prone.
The experts at PennMedicine recommend specifically avoiding these movements to sidestep lower back injury:
– Don’t type and answer your cell phone at the same time (unless you have hands-free).
– Use an ergonomic chair set for your height and lumbar support.
– Aim for a 90-degree angle at your elbow while typing.
– Make sure the top of your computer screen sits at eye level.
– Wear blue-light-blocking glasses while using your smart device.
It might seem obvious, but lifting heavy things is never going to do your back health any favors. Even when you have been trained on exactly how to lift safely, there is no guarantee you will come out of it injury-free.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases states that one of the most common causes of hernia in adults is heavy lifting.
If you work at a job that requires you to lift heavy things as part of your work requirements, you may feel like you are caught in a no-win situation.
But you can still do a lot to protect your lower back by learning proper lifting techniques, wearing the right shoes, and using a supportive back brace. Also, make sure you are using gloves that give you a firm grip and do some predatory back stretches before each heavy item you have to lift.
When you are finished lifting something heavy, take some rest for at least a moment or two. Taking a moment of rest will also help you notice if anything feels sore or sensitive so you can guard against turning a small issue into a big injury.
Also, if at all possible, try to avoid heavy lifting first thing in the morning. The reason for this is because your body has had a chance to rest all night and rehydrate all the structures in your body, including the discs in your spine.
Fully hydrated discs are more susceptible to rupture and hernia, as the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association reported in a case study published by the National Institutes of Health.
This case study noted that disc pressure can increase during the night (after seven consecutive hours of sleep) by as much as 240 percent. This, in turn, increases the risk of disc damage and lower back injury when heavy lifting takes place in the hours just after waking.
Speaking of sleep, one of the best ways to avoid lower back injury is to pursue an overall healthy lifestyle.
Just exercising won’t compensate for sleep deprivation. Just getting enough sleep won’t compensate for carrying too much weight. Just eating healthy won’t compensate for chronic dehydration.
The best approach is one that incorporates each of the following into an overall healthy daily life:
– Sufficient restful sleep for your age and life stage.
– Proper daily hydration.
– Well-rounded and healthy daily diet.
– Regular exercise (building strength and stamina).
– Avoiding toxins like nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.
– Practicing stress-reduction methods like meditation and mindfulness.
It is true that none of these choices contains a direct link to avoiding lower back injury.
However, cumulatively speaking, your choice to create a healthy daily life for yourself can indirectly impact your back health.
For instance, making these daily choices can reduce systemic inflammation, flush toxins, improve immune system function, decrease stress and help you make better choices that limit the chance of lower back injury.
This is one that many people with chronic back pain don’t even think about but it can make a huge difference.
Your pillow can play a larger role than you might suspect. A proper pillow can help you maintain optimal head to neck to spine alignment while you sleep. This is true regardless of what sleep position you prefer. By positioning the pillow properly, you can use it as an ergonomic aid to keep your body safe while you rest.
A high-quality mattress that gives you sufficient back support is another critical change to make to prevent lower back injury.
The National Sleep Foundation states that 63 percent of people who suffer from chronic back pain say just changing out their mattress eases their pain. The NSF recommends a medium-firm to firm mattress if you already have some back pain that you believe is linked to sleep.
Plain old-fashioned ice is one of the best natural anti-inflammatories out there.
Even if you don’t feel like your lower back has been injured, if you apply some ice as a preventative measure after heavy lifting or a workout, this may forestall an injury in the making by reducing inflammation.
In some cases (and only with your doctor’s approval) adding some additional vitamin and mineral supplements to your diet may also help reduce the likelihood of a lower back injury.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and turmeric (curcumin) with black pepper can all help to boost health and combat disc, spine, nerve, muscle, and joint inflammation.
Taking a multivitamin appropriate to your age, gender and life stage can also ensure you are taking in the right amount of essential nutrients to support the health of your back and your whole body.
Receiving regular chiropractic care and treatment is an important part of maintaining back health and preventing lower back injury. Just like other ergonomic aids, chiropractic care ensures your spine maintains the correct natural alignment it was designed to provide.
The American Chiropractic Association states that receiving chiropractic care can prevent back injury and reduce the need for surgery and pain medications after a back injury.
With our busy, fast-paced, high-stress lifestyle, back injury is more the rule rather than the exception, but it doesn’t have to be. Committing to long-term back health can take a bit more focus and effort in the beginning, but over time, these habits can begin to feel second nature to you.
While each one of these six ways to avoid lower back injury can be helpful on its own,
they will work best when used together with the other five methods.
If you are receiving any medical care for back injury or back pain right now, always talk with your doctor first before making any changes to your regular back health regimen.
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