10 Ways to Prevent Low Back Pain
Practically everyone experiences low back pain at some point in life. Some experience it more frequently than others. If you struggle with frequent episodes of low back pain, here are some tips to help you prevent it.
Think BEFORE You Lift: By thinking about how to lift properly, you can prevent 90 percent of the causes for a sudden, sharp pain in the back. Place your feet shoulder width apart, bend the knees and tighten up your abdominal wall; all of this is done before you lift.
Provide a Good Base of Support: Think as if you are a chair; one leg is pretty wobbly. Two legs are better than one, especially with the feet widely placed for extra support. Place a hand down on a counter top for even more support and now you are a three-legged chair. And both legs and arms in contact with something solid will give your spine the most stable base of support possible.
Limit the Reaching: Reaching out to pick up something that you need like a briefcase or coffee cup can easily strain your back. Because of a concept called a lever arm force, anything held with an outstretch arm is heavier than if it were held close to your belly button. That’s a primary reason why raking, shoveling and vacuuming can result in low back pain. Move your feet and limit your need to reach.
Slow Down: Trying to get everything done quickly at once often causes low back pain. If you move too fast, your movements become sloppy and careless. If you do too much at once, you will likely exceed your back’s physical activity tolerance level. Slowing down to a sustainable pace is sometimes all you need to do in order to prevent low back pain.
Limit Your Risk: I have seen so many people struggling with low back pain after an injury from snowboard, Jet Ski, ATV, and horseback riding. Recovering from injuries gets harder as you get older. And old injuries seem to come back to haunt you. Be careful out there because you cannot hit the rewind button.
Be Smarter than Your Spine: Sometimes low back pain is caused by a poor decision. Women make poor choices by wearing high-heeled shoes or carrying heavy purses, both known to cause back pain. Men make poor choices by lifting too much weight or doing weekend warrior stuff without maintaining the strength and endurance to be a warrior. Know your limitations, respect your body, and be smarter than your problem.
Maintain Core Strength: If you understand what core strength is, then you know that your core muscles support your spine. The easiest way to tell if you have poor core strength is to stand on one leg. If you cannot do it or tend to wobble, then you need to improve your core strength in order to prevent back pain.
Unload Your Back: At the end of the day or after working hard, you should try to take some pressure off your spine. I like to recommend Zero Gravity chairs to those who have frequent episodes of low back pain. These chairs can be used as often as you need them and do not cause side effects, unless you consider napping a side effect.
DO NOT SMOKE: Smoking is the fastest way to ruin your spine. According to a study reported in Spine in 2004, spinal discs can degenerate very rapidly in smokers.1 A smoker’s spine does not heal quickly after an injury or surgery if at all. In fact, if you quit smoking now, you will probably have less pain later.
Watch Your Body Weight: The spinal ligaments and muscles can only support so much weight. An over-sized load increases your chances of having frequent if not chronic low back pain. Find ways to lose the extra weight by using a weight-loss app on your smartphone, joining a weight loss support program, or just eliminating all the sugars in your diet.
Exercise Tip: The single most important exercise to help prevent low back pain is practicing standing on one leg to strengthen your butt. You butt is the base of support for your low back. A strong butt will keep your back out of trouble.
Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2004 Mar 1;29(5):568-75
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.