Lower back pain is a common complaint. Four out of five adults have it at one time or another. While only a few cases are serious enough to require hospitalization, and possibly surgery, backaches are a leading cause of absenteeism - second only to colds and flu as a cause of lost work days.
Most backaches are due to weakened and inflexible muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue in the back, hips, thighs, and abdomen - primarily caused by a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise. Over time, poor posture such as slouching, incorrect ways of sitting, standing and lifting, as well as excess weight, and the resulting stress, are all things that set the stage for painful episodes of back strain.
Most back pain is treatable with improved body mechanics and simple exercises that strengthen muscles and foster flexibility in the affected areas. This can also serve as prevention. As a start, take the time to do routine everyday activities in the right way.
- When sitting, keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and head up. Feet should be flat on the floor, which may mean adjusting the chair height or using a small footstool. Knees should be slightly lower than hips, to take pressure away from the back. A support pad or small pillow between the chair and the lower back can also relieve pressure. When you are working at a computer, the screen should be at eye level. Try not to sit for prolonged periods. If possible, get up and walk around periodically, every half-hour or so.
- When you are driving, move the seat close enough so that you can reach the steering wheel and foot pedals without undue stretching and straining. You may want to use a lower back support pad while driving. On long trips, plan to stop, get out and stretch from time to time.
- When standing for any length of time, alternate resting each foot on a small stool about six inches high. Or you can improvise with a block of wood or phone books. Change your posture and walk around periodically.
- Whenever you are standing, avoid locking your knees and try to pull up with your abdominal muscles. This will keep your pelvis in a more natural position. Ideally, women should wear shoes with low heels no higher than one inch. High heels tend to force the back out of alignment.
- When sleeping, use a firm mattress or a plywood panel under a less firm mattress. If recovering from a back injury, you may even wish to sleep on a mat on the floor. Lying on your side with knees bent, a pillow between them, is the best sleeping position. It protects both curvature of the spine and hip alignment. If you prefer to lie on your back, place a pillow under your knees for proper circulation.
- Remember that improper bending and lifting are the most common causes of immediate back pain. Always bend from the knees, keeping the back straight, instead of bending at the waist. If you have a history of serious back problems, or if you need the services of a specialist, consult your physician for referrals.