While 80% of us will suffer a severe back pain episode at some point in our lives, most of us at any given time should be more concerned about preventing or aggravating back pain, rather than resolving a set-back. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are two aspects to prevention of back pain: keeping strong and flexible, and avoiding mistakes during movements.
As far as exercise is concerned, nothing is more beneficial to the spine than walking. Remember that your spine is your “core,” and the core is activated with fast-paced walking. Most of us don’t think of how the spine is affected with walking, instead focusing on the legs. Make walking part of your daily routine. Walk a few blocks or across town to run an errand, rather than getting into a car for these short trips. Park a few blocks away when you have to use the car, so that you can get in a few minutes of walking. Some of us spend five minutes circling in a parking lot just to get a space close to the front door or we get frustrated when we can’t find a space close to the gym! In contrast to sitting, which increases pressure on our disks, walking strengthens muscles and dissipates the pressure on our lower disks.
Keep the back flexible through slow stretching in all of the different ranges. Tight muscles at the back of the thighs-the hamstrings are an often neglected area that affects the lower spine tremendously. To stretch these muscles, stand upright and put one foot on the back of a chair or sofa. Slowly bend forward and hold this position for 30-40 seconds. It should cause a tight burning pain at the back of the leg. It should not cause a shooting pain down your leg, or increase pain in the lower spine. If it does, then see a health care provider immediately. When the hamstrings are flexible, this allows the pelvis to rotate forward when you bend over. If the hamstrings are not flexible, then the lower spine will bend too much to accomplish any lifting task.
The second aspect to preventing back pain is avoiding mistakes, such as lifting with your back, instead of your legs. This is especially true if an object is very heavy. Sometimes the object is light, but we lift in an awkward position, standing with most of our weight on one leg, then bending and twisting, such as getting grocery bags from a back seat, or moving and positioning a child safety seat. Especially avoid twisting motions of the lower spine while bending over. Also, use one of your hands to help brace your spine, which will decrease the pressure on your disks.
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