23 May 2006

Sit up straight – your mom was right

Most low back pain is caused by poor health habits. Office workers are particularly at risk, but you can go a long way to avoiding it by making some simple lifestyle changes.

Most low back pain is caused by poor health habits. Office workers are particularly at risk, but you can go a long way to avoiding it by making some simple lifestyle changes.

Try these straightforward tips to help prevent and alleviate mild to moderate low back pain:

  • Aim for a good upright posture when sitting or standing. It's not necessary to have an extreme upright posture, but one that maintains the normal "hollow curve" of the spine. The spine is not absolutely straight; it has a natural "hollow" in the lumbar area where it curves inwards. One of the keys to beating low back pain is to maintain this hollow and avoid postures that cause it to flatten out or curve excessively outwards or inwards;
  • Standing: Try the following method to improve your standing and walking posture: stand with your back to the wall, with the back of your head, shoulders, buttocks and heels touching the wall. Now relax slightly. That is your ideal posture when standing;
  • Sitting: When sitting, sit upright and don't slouch or curve your back. Make sure that the height of your work surface is such that it doesn't cause you to bend or slouch forward. It's very important to use a chair, whether at work or relaxing, which provides support in the lumbar region - a small, firm cushion is ideal. Avoid sitting in one position for long periods. Stand up and move around at least every 30 minutes;
  • Exercise: Strengthening the muscles of the back and abdomen helps to minimise the frequency, and possibly the severity, of future incidents. Make sure that you do not put severe strain on your back when exercising. Walking and swimming are excellent for safely improving overall muscle tone and strength;
  • Lose weight through dietary calorie restriction and aerobic exercise, as prescribed by your doctor;
  • In general, avoid sudden, quick or jerky movements with your back;
  • When lifting objects from ground level, don't flex your back and bend over - this can put great strain on the lower back. Instead, bend your knees and lower yourself while keeping your back straight. Alternatively, go down on one knee;
  • Don't sleep on a sagging bed, because it won't support your spine properly. Choose a firm, resilient sleeping surface that doesn't allow your spine to sag when it is relaxed in sleep. Avoid sleeping in the same posture every night and all night. A good sleeping position is known as the swimming position", because it resembles a person swimming crawl: lie facing downwards with your head turned to the left. Bend your left arm so your hand lies beside your face, and bend your left knee. Keep your right arm at your side and your right leg straight. Try alternating left and right sides if you wake up during the night;
  • If you already suffer from back problems, you should conscientiously apply all the above measures. When you are experiencing an episode of mild to moderate back pain, you should lie down on a firm, flat surface for an hour in the morning and the afternoon. Your place of work should have a facility where you can go and lie down, but, should this not be available, the floor will do perfectly well;

Although low back pain doesn't usually become a problem before middle age, you are never too young to start protecting your back. All those teachers who admonished us to "Sit up straight" and "Stop slouching" were right. - (Health24)


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