CINCINNATI—Back pain can make any task—even sleeping—daunting.
With the summer months upon us, more people are straining their backs laboring over their lawns and gardens.
For some, an occupation—a task that lasts year round—puts added stress on the back, such as nursing, construction or even monotonous desk work.
Kellie Boyd, MD, a UC Health family medicine physician, says people can often avoid back pain and injuries simply by understanding what causes them and avoiding habits that may worsen an achy back.
"Most back problems are the result of a combination of factors, some of which aren’t preventable, like family history, and some of which are, like work-related strain,” she says. "However, weight, fitness and flexibility all contribute to problems a person may have with his or her back.”
Boyd says that if someone lifts or moves heavy objects for a living, performs a certain task repeatedly, has poor posture or endures a lot of emotional life stress, he or she could be at an increased risk for back pain.
"Regular activity and exercise is your best bet in maintaining a healthy back,” she says. "It’s a good way to strengthen muscles while clearing your head. Also, be sure to keep your weight at an appropriate level to avoid putting added strain on not only your back, but also your joints.”
Boyd also recommends that people pay attention to their posture while standing, walking and sitting.
"Poor posture puts strain on your back muscles,” she says. "Slouching can exaggerate your back’s natural curves, leading to fatigue and injury.”
She says that while sitting, be sure to choose a chair that supports the back, remove bulky objects from your back pockets to avoid disruption of balance and sit with feet flat on the floor.
In addition, Boyd says that if a person has to stand for long periods of time, he or she should occasionally rest one foot on a stool or small box to take constant pressure off of the back.
"Pay attention to your surroundings and comfort on the job or while working around the house,” she says, noting some additional steps important in avoiding back pain:
· Steer clear of unnecessary bending, twisting and reaching, and lift heavy items with the legs, not the back.
· If a person must lift or transfer heavy objects or move patients in a health care setting, he or she should include at least three others in the lifting. Physical fitness or lack of back problems does not mean one can do this by him or herself.
· Limit the time spent carrying heavy briefcases, purses and bags.
· If one must sit or stand for a prolonged period, change positions often. Take timeouts every 15 minutes or so to stretch, move or relax.
· Wear supportive shoes. High heels and kicks with little support can also contribute to poor posture and back pain.
· Try to minimize stress both on the job and at home. Develop coping mechanisms for times when you feel pressure.
"Listen to your body, and take the steps necessary to stop the strain and pain when you feel it—before it becomes a persistent problem,” Boyd says. "Back and spine health is very important. One doesn’t realize how the back impacts daily life until something happens to it.”