Editor’s Note: This post was updated December 29, 2015, to more accurately show the back stretch position.
Four out of five – that’s the number of adults who will experience significant low back pain some time during their lives.
With so many at risk for back problems, what can be done to prevent them? The prescription is one you’ve likely heard before – participate in regular physical activity.
“Inactivity can lead to deconditioning and unwanted weight gain, which can strain joints and muscles that support the spine,” said Monte Willkom, a Marshfield Clinic physical therapist. “Extra body weight puts more stress on the muscles in your back, abdomen and thighs. When these muscles are weak, you’re much more vulnerable to back problems.”
Muscles are happy if they’re short
Sitting for long hours without changing position and repetitive reaching or standing without good posture also are triggers for back pain.
“When you sit slouched with your shoulders rounded or stand bent forward your back muscles are placed in a constant stretch that can lead to strain,” Willkom said. “This puts extra pressure on the discs in the spinal column, displacing them from their normal and natural position, which may lead to nerve compression. Shortening the muscles by sitting or standing up straight and taking regular breaks, reduces muscle strain, keeps the discs in proper alignment and reduces the risk for developing back pain.”
Keeping your back with a slight arch, not rounded, is disk- and muscle-friendly, said Willkom.
“Because our eyes are forward, we tend to look, move and reach forward, flexing our spine and causing our back muscles to be over-stretched,” he said. “If we do these actions repeatedly, they can cause muscle strain or even a slipped, herniated or even ruptured disc.”
If you do experience a sore back, Willkom recommends three steps:
- Change position.
- Maintain variety in your activities and daily movements.
Try this easy exercise to keep your back muscles short (happy), not over-stretched and flexible:
- Place hands firmly against your hips.
- Bend backward until you feel a gentle stretch.
- Do five repetitions every hour and hold each for 2-3 seconds.
Can sitting too much hurt your health? Add movement to your workday.
If you’re suffering from lower back pain and basic self-care tips don’t help, it’s probably time to talk to your doctor.