The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has reported that nearly 80% of all people will experience some form of severe back pain in their lives, and is the most common place people get hurt at work.
Back injury is commonly caused by improper lifting technique, repetitive straining, or sudden force, but even poor posture or ergonomically incorrect seating can lead to pain.
Because the lower part of the body bears the weight of the torso and must manage more motion, the lower back—or lumbar spine region—is the most commonly injured. Herniated discs, pulled muscles and strained tendons can all cause lower back pain for many people, whether they work physically demanding jobs or sit at a desk all day.
Fortunately, there are many things everyone can do to prevent a life of lumbar pain. Below are some of the top recommended tips to prevent back injury.
- Let the Legs Lift—
Lifting heavy items the wrong way is a common way to hurt the back because we often don’t think about picking something up; we impulsively lean over to grab it and… ouch! There goes the back.
To prevent this painful scenario, train yourself to squat rather than lean over when you grab anything beyond lower reach. If you’ve learned to do a squat exercise the proper way, you know exactly how to lift correctly—with the legs.
Proper lifting form involves pushing the rear end out and bending at the knees like you’re sitting in a chair. Your goal is to engage the thigh muscles, and not the back. Grab the item you’re lifting as closely to yourself on the way back up, and use your leg power to rise without twisting in the middle. Also, remember to reverse this process to put anything down.
If you can master proper lift technique to the point that you automatically assume this position, you will drastically reduce your chances for future back pain.
- Building the Back—
Prevention is the best plan to avoid back injury, and one great way to avoid hurting muscles is to strengthen them.
The abdominal core muscles support back muscles, and by making sure you have abs of steel, you’ll be bracing your back as well. Pay special attention to reinforcing the oblique muscles that run along the sides of the body, as these help to steady the back during lifting.
Sitting on an exercise ball, leg lifts, crunches, back leg swings, lunges and squats are all great examples of core-strengthening moves that boost the back. If you can use workouts to lose excess belly fat, this will also help your spine stay aligned and strong.
- Posture Perfect—
The role of maintaining good posture can’t be stressed enough when it comes to avoiding or alleviating back pain. Because bad posture can become a habit, it has the power to put the spine completely out of alignment, wreaking havoc on back muscles.
When standing, the head should be lined up with the backbone, shoulders back, with abdominal muscles engaged and straight.
Sitting posture should be exactly the same, with both feet flat on the floor. Avoid slumping or crossing the legs to keep muscles and ligaments properly lined up.
Don’t forget that the car counts, too. Especially if you have a long daily commute, your car may be the cause of your back pain, so adjust your seat and posture accordingly.
- Sleep Tight… and Right—
If you’re experiencing chronic back pain without obvious reasons like those mentioned above, you might consider your sleeping situation. Many people don’t even realize their bed is causing the problem.
An extremely soft bed is recommended against because it doesn’t offer enough support, stretching muscles, ligaments and bones beyond comfort zones.
But a very hard bed can force the body into overly rigid, uncomfortable positions that make muscles ache as well, so what you’re seeking is firm support with enough give to provide comfort.
Special beds with adjustable settings are also available that can help you find the perfect foundation for your body’s needs.
- Stress Less—
Everybody holds tension in different areas, but for many, the back is a common place to experience stress-related muscle tightness.
This is especially prevalent in the upper back, so if you notice your shoulders rising as anxiety builds, get into the habit of consciously lowering the shoulders every hour, along with deep breaths to promote relaxation.
It is estimated that treatment for lower back pain costs around $50 billion every year, and is the number one cause for job-related disability. (Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.)
Back pain can drastically lessen the quality of life for those who suffer from it, so if you manage a business, be sure to educate employees about how to avoid back injuries. If you are experiencing lumbar pain or want to avoid injury in the future, be sure to use the tips above to keep your back muscles strong and protected for life.
Walter Chapman is a professional blogger that provides tips on OSHA safety training. He writes for OSTS, Inc., a high quality safety training and consulting service in Chino, CA.