How to be physically active and not hurt your back
Lower back pain is very common and there is no shortage of treatments available, but most people would prefer to prevent back pain before it starts – especially as they do yardwork, shovel snow or just try to stay active.
No matter whatever physical activities you plan to do, try to avoid bending your back forward as much as possible. Try to bend at your knees and hips keeping your back in a straight line when picking something up from the floor, for example. Get back up using the power of your leg muscles.
Techniques of carrying/lifting
If the object you are about to lift feels too heavy, ask for help. If you are going to lift a box, squat down by bending at your hips and knees and keeping your back straight. Keep the box between your legs and one foot on either side. Slide your hands under the box and grasp it on either side. Stand up in one smooth motion keeping the box close to you. Use the strength of your legs to lift. Do not bend your back and do not lean backward. Use your abdominal muscles to support your spine by pulling your belly button toward your spine. Keep your weight equal on both legs. There’s no magic number for weight that is safe to lift. That will depend upon your physique, your overall fitness level and whether you have history of frequent back pain or not.
Design your garden in such a way that you have enough space in between the garden beds to keep your body in a comfortable ergonomically correct position and avoid awkward positioning. Consider a raised bed or using a garden mat or stool to kneel or to sit on, keeping your back straight. If you’re going to be digging, push the spade into the ground using your body weight and use one leg to directly push the spade into the dirt, keeping the other leg firmly on the ground. Before you start to lift the soil, cut around the sides of each spadeful. Raise the soil using the handle of the spade near its base for leverage. Move your feet and turn toward where you want to place the soil. Do not twist your body, pivot. Avoid lifting too much soil in one load. Take frequent breaks. Bending, twisting and lifting at the same time is a recipe for back pain.
A healthy body and mind can go a long way
Genetics play an important role. But even though you can’t choose your parents, you can help ensure your back stays pain free as much as possible.
If you condition your body over time so that you are aerobically fit, do regular strength exercises and stretches, you are less likely to experience back pain while you engage in physical activities. Eat healthy, exercise and keep your body weight within healthy range. Keep good posture. Get enough sleep. If you are smoking, please stop.
A positive mental attitude can help in handling back pain so that you bounce back fast and don’t let it turn into a chronic condition. Meditation can reduce stress and muscle tightness. If you have depression or anxiety, get professional help as these can magnify whatever pain you may have and that may worsen depression and anxiety in a vicious cycle.
Take good care of yourself. Do not depend on others to fix your back. We cannot give you a new back – yet, and you may not need one either. Yes, health care professionals can help, and you should ask for help when you need it. But you must take responsibility of maintaining your back. You can have an active, happy life if you take good care of your body, mind and back.
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Dr. Mustafa Farooque is a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician with Aurora Spine Services in Milwaukee, Wis.
About the Author
Mustafa Farooque, MD is board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation and fellowship trained in musculoskeletal spine and sports medicine at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.