But if you are like most Americans over 40, your back pain may be getting in the way of what you enjoy doing. If you are one of the few with a healthy back, here are some quick tips to keep you safe. For those of you with back pain, here are some suggestions on how to reclaim your health and get back your life – pain free.
The two primary causes of back pain are traumatic injury – involvement in a car crash, falling off a ladder, etc; and lifestyle injury – a simple twist while getting up from the couch.
Lifestyle injuries usually come from a sedentary lifestyle. Most of us sit far too much. Sitting causes muscle tightness in your hip flexor muscles (which attach to your spine) so when you stand up these tight muscles get tighter and may compress your spine. Sitting also pushes the vertebrae in the wrong direction and places abnormal forces on the spine and the muscles that support it.
Those who told you, “sit up straight,” were right. Poor posture can result in muscle imbalances. When one muscle is stronger than its opposing muscle the stronger muscle has a tendency to contract and shorten. This can pull the bone it attaches to out of its proper position. This misalignment can cause pain and affect the function of the joint the muscle is attached to.
When you ask a friend to give you a hug and “pop your back” back into place, you feel temporarily better. But unless you have treated the cause of the misalignment, the shortened muscles, the pain and misalignment will return. Physical Therapists spend years learning to correct such situations; fixing the cause, providing not just temporary pain relief, but actually fixing the problem so the pain does not return.
The most common cause of a lifestyle injury is improper lifting technique. Learning the proper way to lift will help you minimize the risk of neck, back, and shoulder pain and injury.
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Before you lift anything, take a moment to test the object’s weight by pushing it with your foot. If it seems too heavy, ask for help. If you feel confident you can lift it without risk, roll your shoulders back in a circular motion a few times and slowly move your head from side to side a to loosen up. Give yourself a clear area so you don’t have to twist your body to grasp the object. Also, be sure your path to the destination path is clear.
Face the object you intend to lift. You want to stand close to the object and keep it close to your body throughout the lift. Keep your feet at least shoulder-width apart and maintain your balance by distributing the object’s weight equally on both sides of your body. No doubt you have heard, “Lift with your legs, not with your back.” It is not glamorous, but the way to ensure you are using your legs and not your back is to stick out your buttocks and keep it out throughout the lift. If you keep your buttocks out throughout the lift you will be using your legs and not your back to perform the lift.
You will be able to safely lift more, and do much more, if you keep your back, stomach, and leg muscles strong and flexible. The skilled staff at a physical therapy facility can help you develop an appropriate exercise routine. If you choose to exercise without supervision, be careful not to overdo it. Be mindful of how your body feels. In general, as you age you should decrease the amount of weight you are lifting and increase the repetitions. If you experience an aching back or neck, slow down and stretch or stop and switch to a different task.
While at home, remember to keep your body in alignment. Don’t slouch. Use good body positioning during leisure activities. If you are watching television or on the computer, get out of your chair regularly and move around – even if it’s just for 30 seconds. Roll your shoulders backwards. Turn your head side to side. Stretch out your forearms and your legs.
So what do you do if you have low back pain? In many cases, if the pain is mild it should go away on its own in a few days. Don’t stop moving. You want to stay active and do as much of your normal routine possible, but listen to your body. Move slowly and with control. Follow the rule, “If it hurts, don’t do it.” But don’t stop moving. Bed rest, for longer than a day, can slow down your recovery.
However, some back pain may remain more than a few days. If your pain lasts more than a few days or gets worse, schedule an appointment to see a physical therapist. What starts as a minor back injury can progress to a chronic condition without early intervention.
How A Physical Therapist Can Help: Back pain may be caused by a wide variety of musculoskeletal issues and medical conditions. Because of this wide variation, each individual’s case is unique, requiring correct diagnosis and treatment with a plan of care that is suited to each patient’s particular condition.
Physical therapists treat pain. It is their area of expertise. Once they have evaluated you and diagnosed your problem, they will use a variety of treatment techniques including modalities (hot / cold packs, ultrasound, electrical stimulation / TENS), manual techniques (like massage or mobilization techniques), specific exercises to alleviate and prevent pain, and patient education to teach you how to treat yourself. Their goal is to return you to the things you enjoy doing, but without the pain. In many cases, they can help you avoid surgery or long-term use of prescription medications.