Four out of five people feel back pain at some point in their lives; in fact, it is the second most common condition that patients report during doctor's visits. The National Institute of Health reports a continuing and growing epidemic of chronic low back pain. They add that the increasing healthcare costs associated with managing chronic back pain are not sustainable.
Our spinal vertebrae house the major nerves that are vital to all of the functions of our bodies, and it is crucial for us to take good care of our back to live the most pain-free and productive life. We will explore the types of back pain and what you can do to maintain a strong and healthy spine that will serve as your foundation for the rest of your health.
Posture and Back Pain
Having proper posture while resting or engaging in activities is crucial to having a healthy back. A publication by Harvard Medical School provides four ways to improve posture and prevent back pain:
- Imagery: Envision yourself with an elongated spine in alignment, as if a string from your spine to the top of your head is holding you up. Keeping that in mind while you’re sitting can help you practice proper posture.
- Squeezing Shoulder Blades: This involves drawing your shoulders back and together. Perform this exercise to strengthen back muscles.
- Upper-Body Stretch: Take breaks throughout the day to stretch tight postural muscles.
- Arm-Cross-Chest Stretch: Stretching your arms across your chest helps with upper body flexibility and keeps your upper back in good alignment.
Benefits of Good Posture
Good posture prevents many ailments besides back pain. Since our spine is connected to the rest of our body, when it is out of alignment it affects other systems. Each vertebra is connected to nerves that travel to certain muscles and organs. This means that when a vertebra is out of alignment, it pinches off the nerve energy that passes through it. Pinched nerves are unable to function properly and don't deliver the appropriate energy to the rest of the body. For instance, some patients may experience digestive issues because the nerves of their digestive tract have a diminished transmission and will not allow normal body functions.
Practicing good posture assists the body in the following ways:
- Allows bones and joints to be in proper alignment and allows proper movement of muscles.
- Helps prevent the onset of arthritis by reducing the amount of wear and tear of the joints.
- Reduces the strain placed on the spinal ligaments.
- Helps prevent permanent contractures that deform the spine into abnormal and painful positions.
- Creates more efficiency of movement and prevents fatigue as muscles use less energy.
- Prevents painful and debilitating musculoskeletal pain.
How to Sit/Stand in Alignment
To get into a proper sitting position, you want to start with your back straight and your shoulders back. Your buttocks should touch the back of the chair. Let your knees rest at a 90-degree angle and keep them roughly level with your hips. Rest your feet flat on a small stool if you require additional support.
You should keep your legs uncrossed and keep your weight evenly distributed on both hips. Take a break from sitting in the same position at least every 30 minutes. Adjust your chair so that your head, shoulders, and elbows are relaxed.
As you are standing, practice the same principles of alignment such as keeping your shoulders down and back, your ears aligned with your shoulders, your hips squared off and balanced on both feet, and your gaze straight ahead. Stand with your weight evenly distributed to both sides of your body.
Can a Back Brace Improve My Posture?
Some experts have found back braces to benefit individuals who find it challenging to maintain good posture. The brace is designed to counteract our tendency to hunch or bring our head and shoulders down and forward.
Wearing a back brace allows your muscles to relax and be pulled back into their natural alignment. In as little time as 15 minutes per day, wearing the back brace will begin to retrain your body to achieve good posture. However, you shouldn’t rely entirely on a back brace; make sure you are still doing exercises and practicing good habits.
Proper Posture While Sleeping
Do you ever wake up sore or with aches and pains? That's usually because you have slept for hours in an unsupportive position. Adjusting your posture while you sleep can help reduce back pain and stiff muscle. According to Healthline, sleeping on your back offers the most health benefits. It protects the spine and prevents hip, shoulder, and knee pain. However, if you have sleep apnea or frequently snore, sleeping on your back may not be an option.
When sleeping in any position, it is important that your hips and shoulders are supported by pillows. Placing support under your knees, behind your back, between your arms, and other pressure points prevents misalignment and the pain that results from it. You should also avoid curling up or sleeping on your stomach, as these can place unnecessary strain on your spine.
Lifting Heavy Objects
Improper lifting, especially with heavy objects, is a very common reason why back pain occurs. To lift an object, you should first start by squatting instead of kneeling. With your feet planted firmly, stand up while using your legs and core to do most of the lifting. Your back should remain aligned and not strained from the weight of the object.
If your back is out of alignment, something as small as lifting a bag of groceries can put you out of commission. Incorrect continued use of your back to lift heavy objects leads to chronic back pain. Fortunately, it can be corrected through a disciplined protocol that combines passive and active therapies such as massages, yoga, and visits to the chiropractor.
Good Posture at Work
No matter your profession, having a good posture applies to everyone. Whether you work for hours on your feet or sitting at a desk, maintaining proper alignment will allow you to perform your work safely and pain free.
The Standing Desk
Technological advances have made a difference in the way we care for our backs today. One of the best developments has been the standing desk. Its adjustable features make for the best ergonomic workstation whether sitting or standing. Keeping the desk at the appropriate height when sitting can help keep your back aligned and prevent hunching. However, it is recommended to stand for only about thirty minutes per hour while working to curb back pain. While standing, you can also practice stretches and exercises to further prevent pain.
Choosing the Correct Chair
Much of our bad posture happens when we spend long periods sitting. Even if you have a standing desk, it is important to have a supportive office chair for times when you are sitting. When shopping for a chair, there are several things to keep in mind. First, choose a chair with an adjustable height. This will help you keep your body in alignment instead of reaching up or hunching down to work on your computer.
You should also look for a chair with good back support. An adjustable back rest, lumbar support, and a shape that matches the natural curve of your spine are all things that you should consider. Also make sure you get a chair with armrests, as using these can help prevent slouching.
The best tool to alleviate back pain is being mindful. If you find yourself having back pain after sitting for long periods of time, it may be time to purchase a new chair or invest in a standing desk.
Walking Breaks Make All the Difference
Whether you often stand in one spot, constantly run around, or sit a lot for your job, it is crucial to take walking breaks. Even just walking for a few minutes each hour can help prevent back pain and increase your quality of life. It helps with blood circulation, helps to build muscle, and best of all - it’s free. However, make sure you are practicing good posture when taking walking breaks to reap the most benefits.
Frequent Exercise For a Healthy Back
In addition to walking, it is important to stretch and strengthen your muscles. Yoga and Tai Chi are known as some of the best forms of exercise for a healthy spine. It combines flexibility, resistance, core, balance, and cardiovascular conditioning to provide the body with a comprehensive physical and mental regimen that can help to prevent back pain.
If you are currently experiencing back pain, several physical therapy exercises focus on strengthening and stretching the core, legs, hips, and buttocks. It is recommended that you seek the help of a healthcare professional before beginning exercises while experiencing back pain.
A major requirement for exercise to be beneficial is that you maintain proper posture while performing it. Otherwise, improper alignment while exercising can lead to injuries and missed results.
Build Your Core
Strengthening the core is one of the most important parts of a healthy body. Your core supports your spine, and it is involved in almost all activities of daily living. Strong abdominal and back muscles will allow you to move with ease and prevent injuries. The most common exercises are crunches and leg lifts, but there are plenty of easy ways to strengthen your core - such as rotational stretches while sitting at your desk.
Could the food you are eating intensify your back pain? Research shows that processed foods, fast food, and saturated fats may cause inflammation that can worsen back pain. Plant-based foods, such as carrots, beets, potatoes, and grapes, are found to have the best anti-inflammatory effects. Green tea is also known to reduce inflammation as well as keep bones healthy and strong. Keeping alcohol to a minimum is also recommended to combat dehydration and bone loss. However, red wine contains resveratrol that may help keep spine discs healthy and reduce inflammation - as long as you drink in moderation.
To keep bones strong, be sure to include plenty of Vitamin D and Calcium in your diet. Low levels of either may lead to osteoporosis or low bone density. You can find calcium in natural sources such as leafy greens, yogurt, milk, and cheese. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, but it is naturally found in only a few foods: fatty fish, egg yolks, and cheese. If you feel that you aren’t getting enough Vitamin D, your doctor may recommend a Vitamin D supplement.
Smoking Blocks Nutrient-Rich Blood
Smoking is well known for its adverse health effects, one of which is diminishing the amount of oxygen that your body uses for all of its body functions, which can even affect your back. Studies have shown that lower levels of oxygen to the spinal discs and joints damage vascular structures, leading to back pain. Smoking also creates a risk factor for developing atherosclerosis and the development of back pain.
Be Mindful of Your Attire
When choosing clothing, ask yourself if it is comfortable and supportive. Pieces of clothing that are too tight may restrict proper blood flow and movement, which can actually aggravate currently present back pain. Instead, choose well-fitting clothing that gives your body breathing room, even when you are sitting down.
You should also avoid carrying heavy objects such as purses, briefcases, luggage, and other items. They are rarely designed with proper ergonomics in mind. Besides, your back is not meant for heavy-duty activities. The easier we are on our backs, the more we'll notice a huge difference in how it feels throughout the day.
Another way to curb pack pain is to wear the right shoes for you. Shoes that don’t fit right or lack arch support and proper padding don’t allow your weight to distribute evenly, which affects your hips, back, and knees. You can also purchase a standing mat for your workspace or shoe inserts to help support your feet.
Types of Back Pain
Back pain is a unique experience different for each individual. When it comes to muscle strain, the intensity can vary from mild to extremely debilitating. The origin of the pain can greatly vary from person to person. In cases of acute pain, the person develops symptoms suddenly. It may last a few days or can continue for weeks.
Chronic pain is defined as pain that has lasted twelve or more weeks. It generally develops slowly and stems from conditions such as osteoarthritis, sciatica, and degenerative disc disease. If you experience any kind of back pain that lasts more than a few days, you should consult a doctor to figure out what it is stemming from.
As always, surgeries want to be avoided at all costs. It is best to try other methods before resorting to this extreme therapy. However, there are advanced cases that probably don't have many other options. It is a good idea to visit several surgeons before electing to have surgery to treat your back pain.
If you practice good habits such as proper posture, wearing appropriate shoes, and exercising your core, you still may experience some back pain. Luckily, there are several passive and active therapies you can include in your lifestyle to treat your pain. These include:
- Physical therapy
- Pain management injections
- Laser therapy
- Chiropractic care
Chiropractic Care Promotes a Healthy Back
One of the essential therapies to include in your spinal care is visiting a chiropractor. Similar to rotating the tires in a vehicle to maintain proper alignment, our spine also needs regular maintenance for it to stay in its best shape. Chiropractors are trained to keep your back healthy through spinal adjustments and other types of therapies.
77% of people who visit a chiropractor describe it as being a very effective treatment for their neck and back pains. In most cases, it is also more effective than only taking medicine. Chiropractors can treat a range of conditions, and regularly visiting one can help keep your back healthy and pain free.
Almost everyone experiences back pain at some point in their lives, no matter what job they work or where they are from. However, taking action now can reduce or even prevent back injuries and strain. Through exercising, being mindful of your posture, and regularly visiting a chiropractor, you can ensure that your spine stays in good shape.