Does your back hurt? If so, you’re far from alone. A 2019 study by the Centers for Disease Control found that almost 40% of adults experienced back pain. The trouble is, back pain is a complex issue that can’t be solved with an ice pack or a prescription. If you want to help reduce your back pain and keep your spine healthy, here are some tips to keep you active and pain-free:
Stretch and Strengthen
Stretching your back can be a big help when it comes to keeping your spine healthy and reducing back and neck pain. Avoid motions that compress your lower back, and always follow back bends with forward ones.
One helpful forward stretch is the standing forward bend, known in Sanskrit as uttanasana. In this stretch, you stand straight and then hinge forward from the hips with your knees slightly bent. Don’t worry if you can’t touch your toes or fully straighten your legs — concentrate on lengthening your back. Gradually straighten your legs as much as you are able.
If you have back pain, exercising on land can be tough. Gravity puts a lot of strain on all your joints, including your spine. Water helps reduce this, so you can work on strengthening your back and moving comfortably.
If you’re not familiar with water exercises, consider joining a group near you. Many gyms with pools have inexpensive water exercise classes, or even free groups for seniors.
You’ve probably heard that you should lift with your knees, not with your back, but how many people actually listen? It’s really good advice, though — whenever you have to lift something from the floor, bend your knees and use the muscles of your legs. Don’t bend at the waist and rely on your back muscles. Your legs are much better built for this task than your back is.
Good Sleeping Position
We spend a third of our lives in bed, so we better make sure we’re taking care of our spines while we do it! There isn’t really a “best” position for sleeping, and everyone’s body is different. Some sleep better on their backs, others on their sides, and some suffer from heartburn or breathing issues if they choose one side over the other. Still, no matter how you sleep, adjust to keep your spine comfortable.
If you sleep on your side, place a thin pillow between your hips or knees to lessen stress on your hip joints, pelvis, and back. If you sleep on your back, place a small pillow beneath your knees to preserve the natural curve of your lower spine. If you sleep on your stomach, a small pillow under your hips and lower abdomen can help keep your lower spine from being compressed.
Adjust Your Seat
With so many people in sedentary jobs today, paying attention to how you sit is very important. A lot of chairs aren’t really great for this — even ergonomic ones can encourage you to slouch and develop poor posture.
You want to make sure that your chair is adjusted properly for your body. Even if it’s comfortable as-is, it might not be correct. Your arm rests should be adjusted so your arms rest at a ninety-degree angle. The back of the chair should have a slight recline. Your hips should go to the back of the seat, and your knees should be at or slightly below hip level.
Adjust Your Screens
Okay, so this one isn’t an exercise or movement, but it’s just as important! Your neck is part of your spine and has its own shock-absorbing curve. If you become habituated to looking down at a screen, instead of straight ahead, you can lose this natural curve in your neck. Poor posture isn’t the only cause of cervical kyphosis, but it’s an important contributing factor.
Fortunately, the solution is simple: Adjust your screens so that they’re at eye-level for you. You shouldn’t have to tilt your chin down in order to see them clearly. This will give you better posture.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Your joints have to handle a constantly changing load. That means that the amount of force that they’re subjected to changes depending on the activity. For example, a two-hundred-pound man will put an extra hundred pounds’ worth of force on his knees with each step. Every time he walks, his knees have to move three hundred pounds! If he’s walking up a flight of stairs, it gets even tougher — even a moderate incline can double or triple the amount of force his knees have to cope with.
Your spine is the same way. The best way to mitigate the amount of force put on your spine and other joints is to maintain a healthy weight.
Maintain Healthy Blood Flow
Inflammation is how your body heals itself, but chronic or unchecked inflammation is the enemy. You can help your body maintain proper blood flow by avoiding nicotine, alcohol, and inflammatory foods. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it tightens blood vessels. Alcohol disrupts the body’s natural pattern of vascular dilation and constriction. Certain foods, like red meats and refined sugars, are implicated in an increased risk of chronic inflammation.
Keep your spine healthy by keeping your whole cardiovascular system healthy. This will help reduce inflammation between your vertebrae and keep joints lubricated.
Back surgery can be expensive, painful, and have a long recovery time. Following these tips can help you develop good spine health habits and proper posture, which may help keep you strong, healthy, and out of the operating room.