Nearly 8 out of 10 adults will suffer with some type of back pain in their lifetime. Back pain can be acute in the beginning and may become a chronic dull pain that persists. Since it is so common there are so many different beliefs surrounding back pain, this causes many people to be confused about what to do when they find themselves in pain. The key to understanding how to limit or prevent back pain is separating the myths from the facts.
MYTH: “I shouldn’t do physical activity if my back hurts.”
Exercise can alleviate back pain by increasing muscle flexibility and strength. Common wisdom for back pain was to lie in bed. This is only recommended immediately after an accident, but if you continue to lie in bed for days at a time your back pain will only be exacerbated. For example, if you fell from a ladder and hurt yourself you should lie in bed for a day or two, but after that you will make your muscles stiff and increase your back pain. Research has shown that regular activity is effective for limiting and preventing chronic back pain since it increases blood flow, muscle flexibility and joint mobility. The best rule of thumb for back pain is to get moving as soon as you can!
MYTH: “Slouching causes back pain.”
This one is partially true. Poor posture can result in muscle weakness which can lead to back pain, but keeping your spine too straight is not good either. Your spine is meant to have normal curvatures which absorb shock much in the same way a tall building is built to be flexible against the elements. So, trying to sit at your desk super straight all day can be just as detrimental to your spine as slouching. The best thing you can do for your spine, no matter what you do all day, is to keep it flexible. Your spine makes 4 basic movements—flexion (bending forward), extension (bending backward), rotation and lateral (side to side bending). Making sure to move your spine in these movements, without load, every day will keep your spine supple and prevent injury from degeneration.
MYTH: “Staying thin will prevent back pain.”
While it is true that extra weight, especially around the middle, can cause poor alignment of your spine which can lead to back pain. Staying thin does not mean you will never have back pain. It will only reduce your chances of poor posture caused by the extra weight. To truly prevent or limit the occurrences of back pain you must improve posture and increase core stability. If your balance is poor there could be many reasons, however realigning your spine and strengthening you core are two good places to start to improve balance and reduce pain. To test your balance stand with both feet on the ground, close your eyes and stand there for at least one minute. If you can’t stand still without swaying or if you have to open your eyes to steady yourself then your balance is compromised. If you pass this initial balance test, then try lifting one leg from the floor and see how you do. Most everyone can improve their balance, so even if your balance is fairly good it is always important to work on it each week to stay strong.
MYTH: “Lifting heavy objects causes back pain.”
You can injure yourself by lifting something heavy, however generally it is all of the little repetitive movements that you do in your daily activities that add up over time causing back pain. Usually when someone is lifting a heavy object they are braced and ready for the load. The majority of injuries happen when you lift and twist the spine. The most common thing that you do at home that requires lifting and twisting with load is laundry. It’s repetitive and over time it can cause injury and misalignment that leads to pain.
The bottom line is if you injure your back and are in acute (sharp) pain then rest for a day or two, ice the area that is hurt to reduce inflammation and take over the counter pain relievers. After a couple of days start moving, even if it is just a gentle walk or stretching. After you are feeling better, seek out a professional to assess your posture and give you some movements to strengthen the weakened muscles and lengthen those that are too tight. In addition, pay attention to movements in your daily activities that may cause your back pain and misalignments. Habits like carrying all of your bags on the same side of your body create imbalances in your musculature. So, keeping your spine limber, your muscles flexible and strong is the best preventive measures for reducing back pain.