If you suffer from back pain, you are not alone! In fact, back pain affects 80% of Australians at some time, and is the most common cause of absenteeism at work .Instead of suffering in silence, it’s possible to take action to prevent or alleviate back pain and its symptoms, so that your body remains fully functional, and you can enjoy life, rather than being hobbled by a “pain in the back”.
There are many causes of back pain, ranging from the easily preventable and treatable, to problems that may require consultation with a doctor or a specific back care expert, such as a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath.
For back problems that result from work or recreational injuries, or diseases such as scoliosis, arthritis, osteoporosis or sciatica or referred back pain from an injury elsewhere, such as the knee, foot or hip, you should seek medical advice. Back pain can also occur as a result of changes to the body, such as carrying extra weight during pregnancy, or decreased flexibility with age.
However, there are some back problems that are much easier to solve yourself, by making some simple lifestyle changes:
• Take regular exercise to keep your spine and its supporting tissues in good shape. Weak muscles and ligaments are unprepared for sudden or heavy loads, and are therefore easily injured.
• Perform specific strength training exercises every day to create a tight ‘girdle' of muscle around your abdominal core. This can reduce existing back pain and help to prevent future injury. For advice on how to start a daily program, see ‘Your Essential Back Exercises’
• Reduce your stress levels. One of the side effects of stress is increased muscle tension, which can lead to fatigue, stiffness and localised pain. Constantly tight muscles can create postural imbalances that may cause misalignment of the spine. Learn some relaxation techniques to reduce stress levels and subsequent muscle tension. Try massage, heat or cold applications and gentle exercise, or ask your back care specialist for advice.
• Be careful when lifting and carrying heavy loads. To begin, squat down, hold the object as close to your body as practical, and lift by using your legs, keeping your back straight. Think of your back as a forklift, not a crane! ) If the load is too heavy to manage comfortably on your own, ask someone to help you, or use equipment (such as a trolley).
• Maintain a healthy body weight: being overweight or obese puts extra strain on your back.
• Be aware of your posture. Consider your bearing, particularly in seated positions, such as when driving or sitting at a desk for long periods of time. Don't slump, instead, keep your back upright and use support where necessary (such as a lumbar support cushion or footstool).
• Take regular breaks. When driving, standing or sitting for long periods of time, take a break at least every hour to change the position of your joints and loosen your muscles. Include a short walk and a few stretches as part of your break.
• Change your mattress – surfaces that are too soft or too hard can aggravate a sore back. Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
In addition, the Australian Osteopathic Association have some extra tips to keep your back in top shape:
• For back pain, see your back specialist sooner rather than later
• Watch children's posture: don’t let them carry a heavy school bag on just one shoulder
• During pregnancy, treatment by a back care professional can help your body to adjust to changes as the baby grows
• Do your best to make your workplace more ergonomically friendly. 1 For more information on posture and ergonomics at work, read ‘How to sit at a computer’ on the Ergonomics Australia website.
1. Back Pain, Australian Osteopathic Association, www.osteopathic.com.au/download/Backpain.doc, visited 4 May 2006
2. Back Pain, Better Health Channel, Victorian Government, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Back_pain? OpenDocument, visited 4 May 2006
Written by vielife May 8 2006.
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