Get the pain off your back

Small changes in your posture and lifestyle can go a long way in keeping your back healthy and strong

Do you experience pain or stiffness in your back?

Have you taken painkillers for the same?

Do you regularly practise yoga or go to the gym but get no relief? 

Are your medical reports showing nothing abnormal with your back?

The solution lies in maintaining a correct posture and making a few lifestyle changes. There are many causes of back pain but the most common cause is poor posture and this is known as postural back pain.

Poor posture puts unnatural, excessive and prolonged strain on the muscles, ligaments, discs and nerves of the spine. Often, due to lack of evidence on X-rays or other tests, back pain  is often misdiagnosed as a psychosomatic or ‘all in the mind’ condition. When you start following the right posture your spine will thank you greatly.

Why good posture matters

There are five key benefits to maintaining a good posture:

  1. Facilitates breathing
  2. Increases concentration and thinking ability
  3. Instantly improves confidence
  4. Avoids health complications
  5. Reduces unnatural pressure on the spine

How do I know if my posture is correct?

Good posture does not mean keeping your back straight and exaggerating your spinal curves. This will cause your back muscles to tire soon. Good posture means to keep the two Cs of the spine in neutral position with tireless effort:

  • the first C starts from base of the head till your shoulder;
  • the second C starts from your mid back up to your tailbone.

Simple tips to maintain good posture

Sleeping positions, mattress and pillow

Using too soft or hard a mattress, using a pillow with improper thickness, or sleeping in awkward positions for almost 7 – 8 hours causes trauma to your spine. It’s important to use a mattress and pillow that offers firm support to your spine and which will adapt your body contour. While getting up from bed, avoid doing so with jerky movements.

To get up from your bed in the correct way:

  • Lie on your back, take a deep breath
  • Bend your knees
  • Turn on one side
  • Take support of hands, raise your upper body and put the legs down
  • Sit up with the spine straight and feet supported on the ground
  • Stand up with the spine straight.

Walking, standing and choosing footwear

Always stand with feet apart. The distance between your feet should be the same as that between your shoulders. This helps to keep your knees loose. While walking, the heels should touch the ground first, followed by midfoot and then toes. And your arms should swing from the shoulders, not just from the elbows. Wrong footwear also puts undue pressure on the back.

Tips for choosing the right footwear:

  • Wear sports shoes, whenever possible or go for shoes with good arch support
  • Avoid wearing high heels, pointed shoes and completely flat footwear
  • Choose footwear that offers firm grip and non-slipperly sole
  • Shoes should not be too loose or tight and should have enough space for movement of toes and for feet to breathe.

Sitting posture

To be able to sit with neutral spine, always ensure your back is supported. Keep a small pillow for lumbar [mid back] support and always keep your feet resting flat on the ground, and your hands either rested on arm rest of the chair or on your mid thigh. Avoid sitting on sagging sofas and hard surfaces like plastic. For prolong sitting, use ergonomic chairs and ergonomic footrest.

Bending and lifting

While bending, never bend from spine. Always bend from hip by keeping knees loose.

To lift something from the floor:

  • Stand as near the object as possible and keep your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Go down from your buttocks like squatting
  • Bend forward from your hips

Carrying a handbag or wallet

Choose light weight bags for regular use. Always prefer one broad belt instead two small belts. The length of the bag should end at your hip. Avoid carrying a wallet in back pocket, keep it in your front pocket instead.

While carrying something heavy, try to balance the weight equally and carry something in the other hand too.

Recurrent stressors on spine

There are some things that we do repeatedly, which puts unhealthy pressure on the back. These include watching TV in awkward positions, working at a computer/laptop for long hours without taking intermittent breaks, playing video games or driving for long periods of time, working on sewing machine for long hours without doing stretches intermittently.

Tips while using laptop, computers and tablets:

  • Always keep the screen at eye level
  • Keep the keyboard and mouse at same level
  • For laptop and tablets use a stand. Do not place the laptop on lap or hold the tablet in your hand.

Stress and tension

  • People who are not satisfied with life and are unable to cope with their problems have a general tendency to hunch forward. They begin to stoop due to the complexes they have in their mind. They always feel tired—as if the weight of the whole world is on their shoulders. To get rid of stress and anxiety, consult experts as soon as possible. Also,
  • Take frequent breathers or rest breaks
  • Try doing your tasks differently... or do something altogether different
  • Involve yourself in some recreational activities

Balanced diet

Your spine and bones need nutrients to stay strong. Lack of vitamin D, calcium and proteins will have a negative impact on your bone and muscular health.

To maintain nutritional balance:

  • Drink 8 – 10 glasses of water everyday
  • Spend at least three days a week basking in sunlight for 15 minutes. Do this before 8.30 am or after 4pm.
  • Have dry fruits like almonds, walnut, dates, cashew nuts, black raisins.
  • Include milk and milk products in your diet.

This was first published in the May 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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