Self-help: Preventing Back Pain

Back pain is often due to poor posture, weak abdominal or back muscles, or sudden muscle strain. You can improve your posture by wearing comfortable shoes, sitting and standing properly, and choosing an appropriate mattress for your bed. Regular exercises strengthen abdominal and back muscles; losing weight will relieve stress on the back; and lifting objects safely can help to prevent back strain. Ask your doctor or physiotherapist for advice on posture, exercises, and diet.

Correct body posture

To break bad postural habits, you should be constantly aware of the way in which you stand, sit, move, and even sleep. The pictures on this page show how to carry out everyday activities comfortably, with minimal strain on your spine and back muscles.

Sitting position

Sit with your back straight and both feet flat on the floor. Use a chair that supports the small of your back. When using a computer, position the monitor so that your eyes are level with the top of it.

Driving position

Angle your seat backwards a little to support your spine, and position the seat so that you can reach the hand and foot controls easily.

Standing position

Put your weight evenly on both feet. Hold your head up and shoulders back, allowing your spine to curve naturally. Balance your body over its centre of gravity, which is in the pelvis and lower spine.

Lifting a heavy object

When lifting, pushing, or pulling a heavy object, keep the object close to you so that you can use your full strength to move it. To lift an object, hold the bottom edge so that you support the full weight of the object and keep your body balanced as you lift to avoid straining your spine.

Squat close to the object with your weight evenly on both feet and the object between your legs. Grasp the base of the object.

Keep your back straight and lean forwards slightly. Stand up in a single, smooth movement, pushing yourself up with your leg muscles and keeping the object close to you.

Once you are upright, keep the weight close to your body. Keep your back straight and head up, so that your body is balanced over its centre of gravity.

Back-strengthening exercises

You can help to prevent back pain by gently exercising the muscles in your back and abdomen. See a doctor or ask for a referral to a physiotherapist before starting a programme of exercise. You should not continue to do any exercise that causes you pain. The movements shown here should make your back muscles stronger and your spine more flexible. Repeat each one 10 times if you can, and try to exercise daily. Do the exercises on a comfortable but firm, flat surface, such as a mat laid on the floor.

Lower back stretch

This stretch may relieve aching joints and muscles in the lower back. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and with your knees bent. Lift your knees towards your body. With your hands, pull your knees into your chest. Hold for 7 seconds and breathe deeply. Keeping your knees bent, lower your feet to the floor one at a time.

Pelvic tilt

This movement helps to stretch the muscles and ligaments of the lower back. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Press the small of your back into the floor. Tighten your abdominal and buttock muscles so that your pelvis tilts upwards and your buttocks rise slightly off the floor. Hold for 6 seconds and then relax.

Hump and sag

The movements in this exercise should increase suppleness in the joints and muscles of the back. Support yourself on your hands and knees with your knees slightly apart. Tuck your chin into your chest, then gently arch your back. Hold for about 5 seconds. Look up, allowing your back to sag, and hold again for about another 5 seconds.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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