For just about everything we do, our backs are “into it”! Every move we make, every breath we take, our backs are moving too.
The bad news is almost everyone experiences back pain at some point in their lives. The good news is most episodes of back pain resolve within a day or two, and over 90 percent resolve within four weeks.
For some though, back pain can lead to ongoing pain and loss of movement. There are many treatments that can support the management of the pain, but prevention is the key.
Most back pain stems from everyday activities, such as snow shoveling, and may be as easily preventable as switching sides as you work Image: iStock
Our backs are an intricate system of structures that normally work together to function amazingly well. Vertebrae, which make up the spinal column, are separated by discs, and within the spinal columns, the spinal cord and the nerves that control our arms, legs and trunk are protected. There are also numerous ligaments, muscles and other connective tissue that make up this system. Our spine has a natural s-shape to it, curving inward at the neck and lower back area.
We often think of back pain as being a result of a sudden and traumatic accident, but actually only about 30 percent of back pain is directly related to an incident or event. It is difficult to prevent any incidents from occurring, but using good safety measures in all we do can prevent most of them. Things like wiping up spills, ensuring adequate lighting, taking time and planning our activities, asking for help, wearing proper equipment, and removing hazards are very important in decreasing our risks.
So what about the other 70 percent of back pain episodes? Well, these are caused by the everyday wear and tear and activities we do. Repetitive activities and poor posture is the primary cause. We are usually not even aware of what we are doing until we get back pain. It may be as simple as forgetting to bend your knees when you lift light objects. You don’t feel it at the time, but if you keep doing it, you will.
A researcher named Alf Nachemson did a study where he took cadavers and tested the force on the back in different postures. He found that even with a light load, if you bend the back 30 degrees and rotate it 30 degrees, you put about four times the force through the back, in comparison to a normal standing position. This is why activities such as vacuuming, shoveling and raking can cause pain in the back if we don’t do them correctly. The repetitive nature of the activities and the fact that people tend to do it to only one side, increases the risk.
Some general rules to help prevent back pain:
1. When lifting, bend with your knees, not your back – use the larger muscles of the legs for power. Keep the load close to your body and avoid twisting motions.
- Maintain good posture by keeping the spine in its normal s-shaped, “tall” alignment whenever possible. If sitting for long periods, use a supportive chair and take lots of stretch or walking breaks. Also, find the right mattress for sleeping.
- Get regular exercise. Aerobic exercise is important for overall joint and body health. Specific exercises to maintain proper alignment and strengthen the spine and stomach muscles support a healthy spine.
- Take your time and plan your work, activity or home environment. Careful thought in how you arrange your environment can also help decrease injuries or stress related to repetitive or awkward postures.
Even with the best prevention and care, back pain still does occur for some people. If back pain continues for more than a day or two, you may wish to consult your doctor. Physiotherapy is one effective treatment option. Physiotherapists are trained in assisting people with managing pain and restoring normal movement and activity.
This article is provided by Liris Smith, a member of the Yukon Council of Physiotherapists. For more information on physiotherapy in Yukon and Canada, check out www.yukonphysiotherapy.org
This article is provided by Liris Smith, a member of the Yukon Council of Physiotherapists. For more information on physiotherapy in Yukon and Canada, check out www.yukonphysiotherapy.org or www.physiotherapy.ca