Millions of Americans suffer each year with back pain. While there can be many causes of back pain one major, and preventable, cause of back pain is muscle strain. If you stress or strain your back muscles by using them frequently and repetitively or by asking them to work harder than they are able they can become irritated causing back pain or even muscle spasms. This pain can be acute (lasting 6 or less weeks) or it can be chronic (three or more months of suffering).
There are simple things you can do to help prevent back injury:
1. Lift with Good Mechanics
“Lift with your legs, not your back”. We hear this advice all the time and yet ignore it. It is much more convenient to just lean over or stoop down and grab that box. That is, much more convenient until injury strikes. You may not realize it but even light objects seem much heavier to your body when you stoop to pick them up rather than squatting to lift them. The farther the object you are picking up is from your belly button the harder your muscles have to work to lift them.
The next time you have to pick something up, try these steps to minimize your risk of injury
- 1Get close to the object. Pull it towards you or walk as close to it as you can get.
- 2Squat until you are at the height of the object.
- 3Lift the object.
If you begin doing this every time you need to lift something it will become second nature. Then when you have to lift something heavy you will be very well practiced!
2. Change Positions
Would you only workout one arm or one leg at the gym? Of course not! However, many of us work only one side of our backs constantly. We hold our children on the same side, we carry heavy backpacks or purses on one side, we carry the heavier groceries one a particular side. We use our dominant hand for many things and as a result typically we are asking our backs to work on one side. When you use one side for many tasks over and over and over the muscles get tired and the more you ask of them the more irritated, they can become. Think about your back when doing repetitive tasks and change up how you are doing that task. Maybe use your other hand for a while, lessen the effort required to do the task or reimagine how you are doing it to give your muscles a rest.
3. Take breaks
If you cannot change how you are doing a task simply adding short but frequent rest breaks can make a big difference. A rest break will allow the muscles to recharge and reduce your risk of injury.
Where can you start making these changes?
You can begin using some of these strategies when working on projects at home. Build in rest breaks, reimagine positioning, and make sure you are lifting with good form.
You can also stretch and exercise at home to ensure your back is flexible and strong for all your projects.
When You Are Sleeping
Getting a good night’s sleep is important for healing and muscle recovery. Whether you sleep on your side, back, or stomach make sure your back is supported and able to rest. On your side try placing a pillow between your knees and thighs to take pressure off your back. If you lay on your back you can place pillows under your knees and if you lay on your stomach a pillow under your stomach will ensure a good rest for your back.
Make sure your mattress is supportive.
If you are sitting a lot at work, make sure you are getting up at least one time per hour to stand and/or move your legs. You can easily stretch your legs at your desk by placing a small stool or books under the desk to prop your foot on.
Make sure your desk is set up for success, see our post about office ergonomics.
If you have a more active job make sure you are taking rest breaks. See if you and your coworkers can come up with different ways of achieving your work tasks to alternate which side of your back is doing the most work.
Regardless of your job type, always use good lifting mechanics when picking up heavy objects from the ground.
At The Gym
Make sure you are working on a stretching and strengthening routine to keep your back healthy and strong. Try incorporating weight lifting, yoga, and Pilates to maximize strength and flexibility.
Focus on core, but avoid over crunching. Repetitive bending of your back could cause strain, focus on keeping your core long and strong to protect your back.
Practice proper squatting with increasing weight at the gym. Always use a spotter if you are lifting heavy weights.
Back pain can be overwhelming and hard to manage on your own. Using the tips above, you can greatly reduce your risk of back pain caused by muscle strain. If you, or someone you know has been suffering with back pain for any length of time; seek help. At Breakaway Physical Therapy we have a very knowledgeable staff who can help figure out the source of your pain. We work with you to find the source of the pain, reduce the pain, and give you strategies to ensure it never comes back. We use hands on therapy as well as create a customized plan of exercises and stretches to create stability and improve the function of your back and core. Give us a call today at 410-721-6333 to chat with a patient care coordinator about setting up your first visit with one of our therapists.