Dr Liam McCambridge
BSc (Clin Sci), MHSc (Osteo)
Back pain. We’ve all had it at one stage or another, be it a small, annoying niggle or searing pain that keeps you bed-ridden for days. It’s frustrating, painful, and often the result of something very trivial that leaves you thinking “you cannot be serious?!” As always, prevention is better than cure, so to prevent you from asking this question, here are five ways to help you protect your back, helping you to stay active and doing the things you love.
Rule #1: Limber Up
Yes, rule #18 from Zombieland has been promoted with a bullet to rule #1 here, and despite Woody Harrelson’s lion comments, limbering up is very important. Before any task involving your back, whether it is lifting, bending, pushing, pulling, gardening or even sitting at your work desk all day, a simple stretching and warm-up routine can help loosen your muscles, get your joints moving and help to prevent injury. The following 7 step routine may help to loosen and relax your back, aiding in the prevention of activity-related injuries.
1. Cat and Camel
Perform with slow, deep breaths for 5 repetitions. Image courtesy of whyiexercise.com
2. Do the Twist’
Hold this position for 30secs. Repeat on the other side. Image courtesy of westvalley.edu
3. The ‘Merv Hughes’
Hold this position for 30secs. Repeat on the other side. Image courtesy of au.pinterest.com
4. Heel to bottom
Hold this position for 30secs. Repeat on the other side. Image courtesy of popsugar.com.au
5. Toe Touch
Hold this position for 30secs. Image courtesy of thotdoc.org
6. ‘Let me see your hips SWING’
Swing legs outward and across your body repeatedly for 30secs each side, then back and forward for 30sec each side. Images courtesy of workoutlabs.con
Gently perform in a fluid motion at around 1 second per count. Perform 10 repetitions. Image courtesy of armyprt.com
This routine can be done before any planned exercise, before you sit at your desk all day, or, ideally first thing in the morning as a way to help energise your day.
Rule #2: Do You Even Lift?
Image courtesy of freemusclebuildingtips.com
No, I don’t mean hitting the gym until you turn into Wolverine, though there are many health benefits to weight training, including injury prevention, but that is best saved for another blog. I’m talking about lifting properly. Too many people bend too far, twist through their back or carry heavy, bulky items on their own. Turning by using your legs, squatting to pick up items and lifting heavy loads with other people are all ways to protect your spine from injury, and always remember to use lifting equipment to help you if it is on hand.
Image courtesy of efoza.com
Rule #3: Shouldering the load
People carry bags for many different purposes: school, work, fashion or just generally taking items from one place to another that would look ridiculous if you tried to juggle it in your hands… unless you are a clown or professional juggler then, by all means, carry on! But if the world of circus performance is not for you, then the right bag can make all the difference. Ideally, a backpack works best, as the load is even throughout your back, providing balance. Notice it is called a backpack, not a shoulderpack. Too many people wear their backpacks only on their shoulders, treating the waist and chest straps as nothing more than a waste and an annoyance! However, these straps, when properly adjusted, can help to improve your posture when carrying your backpack, saving your spine from undue stress.
This backpack guide works well for adults too! Image courtesy of wellnessmediaresources.com
If you are carrying a satchel or a bag that only goes over one shoulder, try to limit the items you put in your bag to the necessities only, and purchase a lightweight bag. Also, train yourself to comfortably carry your bag on both shoulders so the same side isn’t under pressure all the time. Alternatively, an airport-style luggage bag with wheels that you can push or pull along can remove a great deal of stress from your back, helping you to transport heavier items with minimal pressure through your spine.
Rule #4: Learning how to Sit Down
I’m not suggesting you’ve forgotten how to sit down. Everyone knows how to do that, and if it is on a couch or watching a movie it can be quite relaxing. But how we sit down, particularly at our desks, is often the cause of a world of tightness and pain due to our poor posture. Whether this is when you’re hard at work or casually browsing through funny cat videos on YouTube at home, the wrong seated posture can leave your back in a world of hurt. Below is a nice diagram to help you set up your desk both at work and at home.
Image courtesy of fitness.stackexchange.com
As well as following the diagram, remember to take breaks to stand, walk around, have a drink and do the Merv Hughes, Toe Touch, Windmill and Hip Swing exercises every 45-60mins. This breaks up your day, helping to prevent your posture from creeping forward under the effect of our friend gravity. If you’re at a larger workplace, you could even ask your manager or human resources department if they provide ergonomic assessments, to help tailor your work environment specifically to you.
Rule #5: Put your Best Foot Forward
Feet. The tyres of the body. We all know that for fitness we should take 10,000 steps per day, but taking that many steps can really have an impact on your spine if you’re wearing the wrong footwear. Yes, it’s lovely to strut around in stilettos, easy to slip on some flats, and relaxing to bum around in some thongs, but, long-term, heels and shoes with a lack of support can lead to back pain. I’m not saying to ditch these shoes altogether, but having a supportive pair or two for when you’re on your feet the most can help to prevent excessive strain on your back. Visiting a shoe store and having a professional recommend a shoe type for your foot can help. Talking to a podiatrist or osteopath if you have a history of foot pain or injuries can also help, providing orthotics, exercises and advice on footwear to suit your needs.
The perfect fit is so important! Image courtesy of au.pinterest.com
So, remember: limber up, lift correctly, choose the right bag, sit up straight and have a shoe to fit you as well as Cinderella. This will help you on your way to save your spine, keeping you able to do the things you love.
Dr Liam McCambridge is a full-time Osteopath at Townsville Osteopathy, helping to improve spinal health one handy tip at a time. You can find out more about Townsville Osteopathy on our site, and follow Townsville Osteopathy on Facebook and Instagram.