As the springtime arrives, many people begin to notice how the lack of physical activity and poor posture throughout the winter months is affecting the health of their backs and necks. Millions of Americans suffer from back pain in a given year, and many of these individuals visit healthcare providers, including chiropractors, for acute episodes or to manage chronic back pain (lasting 3 months or greater). As one of the leading causes of disability and lost work days in the United States, back pain can be a serious productivity killer—not to mention lowering overall quality-of-life.
The back is an organized collection of bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons, all of which work together to coordinate movements of the torso. Complicating diagnosis and treatment, back pain can be caused by disease or injury to any of these components. Most individuals who suffer from back pain do not have a serious underlying disease causing their symptoms; instead, most cases are due to mechanical problems or direct injury to one or more of the components.
Injuries and mechanical issues in the back can come in many forms and levels of severity. Certainly, herniated (degenerated) disc disease, the so-called “slipped disc,” is famous for its ability to limit mobility and even outright disable those who suffer from it. With that said, however, there are countless ways to harm the back, and you don’t even have to leave your bed in the morning or get up from the dinner table to do it: one “funny” motion can cause a twinge that leaves you in pain for weeks. Throw in poor posture or obesity, and you are putting yourself at greater risk of these injuries occurring and increasing the recovery time when they do happen.
While it is true that a variety of treatments are available to relieve back pain, it can be a debilitating condition that impacts work, family, travel, hobbies, and more, so clearly it is better to avoid it altogether. But what can you do to reduce your risk of injuries that cause back pain?
Although it’s not possible to eliminate the risk completely, maintaining good posture and using proper body mechanics throughout the day and especially during physically-intensive tasks—particularly heavy lifting, reduces the chances of injury and, consequently, of back pain.
For individuals who sit at a desk for prolonged periods of time, do frequent check-ins of your posture. Are you slouching? Slouching can increase pressure on the spine. It’s safer for you to maintain a neutral posture by sitting upright and keeping the ears, shoulders, and hips in alignment with one another. Having the chair (and even work surfaces) be adjustable can help you reach and maintain this neutral posture more easily.
Frequent breaks to stand or walk can provide some relief throughout the day. Get assistance for carrying heavy loads by asking another person to help or use a cart or dolly. If you must carry the load yourself, use the legs (not the back) to lift it, keep the weight close to the body near the waist, and do not turn or twist. If you must stand for a long time, try using a footrest, and alternate which foot is on the floor. Ensure that the work surface is elevated to a comfortable height.
Keep in mind that many back injuries occur outside of the workplace; continue to be mindful of your posture and body mechanics throughout the entire day. Finally, educate yourself about ergonomics in the workplace and learn what resources your employer offers, if any.
Visit your chiropractor to discuss ways to improve your posture and address any underlying spinal problems that may be exacerbating your inability to maintain good posture throughout the day.