health, but have we ever really been educated on basic back care? Growing up, we have been taught how to brush and floss our teeth to maintain good oral health and we even know how to maintain our vehicles so they run efficiently and safely. But somewhere along the line, basic back care education for our own bodies is missed. Most people seem to understand they need to “use the legs when lifting or bending, strengthen the abdominals and back, and exercise”. Unfortunately, when I see my patients, they are commonly performing exercises unsafely or incorrectly, or not at all. Rarely do I see optimal posture or correct use of body mechanics with bending, lifting, or bed mobility. Additionally, most people have poor core stability (or rarely know
exactly what that even means) and tight lower extremity muscles that both play a role in back pain.
There are many factors that play a role in back pain, many different ways it manifests and many different ways that it can be addressed. We can’t discuss this all in one article, but in my experience, I feel that the majority of cases have to do with how we use our bodies and can be prevented. Here are some tips that can help PREVENT back pain:
1. Frequent position changing: prolonged sitting or forward flexion puts the most load on the low back and can contribute
to disc problems. Prolonged standing or repetitive movements can also place unfavourable strain on the spine. Frequent mini-breaks or position changes may seem ‘time consuming’ and unproductive at the time, but it can save you from debilitating pain in the long run.
2. Use correct body mechanics: getting in/out of bed, bending forward to tie your shoes, reaching, lifting and carrying are just a few of the activities we do daily that can eventually cause back pain if not performed correctly. It is simple to learn, but accurate instruction and even demonstration from your physiotherapist can be helpful.
3. Optimizing postural alignment: positioning your spine so that it maintains its 3 natural curves is key to a healthy back. When these healthy curves become too flattened or too arched, it can compress the vertebrae and the discs in between, causing pain or irritation of the nerves coming out of the spine. Whether you’re sitting, walking, lifting, exercising or sleeping, your spine should primarily be in its optimal position.
4. Proper footwear: improper shoes can affect your postural alignment and can cause certain lower extremity muscles to become shortened which can contribute to back pain. Orthotic inserts may be beneficial for some people.
5. Manage your stress: many scientific studies have shown that stress is a major factor in back pain. Find effective ways to manage your stress. There are numerous approaches that are not within the scope of this article. Finding time to mindfully
unwind and participate in a regular exercise regime (performed correctly) has been shown to assist in stress reduction. As a Yoga Therapist, I consistently observe myself and my clients effectively managing stress in life through living a yogic lifestyle. It's NOT the amount of stress or load in your life, it's HOW you carry it!
6. Overall physical health: maintain a healthy diet and body weight; perform regular stretches, strengthening, and spinal
stability/mobility exercises in a safe and effective manner.
Unmanaged back pain warrants a visit to your doctor to rule out a serious medical condition. Your physiotherapist has the skills to assess and treat a variety of back conditions and knows when to refer back to your doctor if further investigation is required.