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How To Maintain a Healthy Lower Back

By: Peter Harris

Low back pain is an affliction that affects the majority of people in our society. Statistically 90% of the population will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. The large portion of those people that do experience low back pain will have a recurrent episode of pain at some point in their lives. It has also been shown that those people that are given the right education regarding their low back pain can significantly reduce their chances of having another episode of pain.

If you are one of the many individuals that have experienced an episode of low back pain in the past and would like to prevent a recurrence of these symptoms here are some simple things you can do:

1. MOVE! Our spines were meant to move. Any static position for too long a time can prove to be uncomfortable, even painful for most people. You should move your spine frequently whether you are standing, lying down, or sitting. The longer you are in any one position the greater the stresses and force that load our spinal ligaments and disc structures become. Frequent movement can help reduce these stresses and minimize low back pain.

2. AVOID sitting longer than 30 minutes at a time. This is probably one of the hardest things for people to do but it can be very helpful in preventing recurrence of low back pain. Everyone should get up, move around or even stand within every 30 minutes of sitting. The sitting position greatly increases the pressure within our spinal discs while standing can relieve this pressure, even if it is for a short time. If you have a desk job get up and walk around your desk once or twice. You'll be amazed at the difference in how your back feels.

3. AVOID sitting or repetitive forward bending motions first thing in the morning. Our spinal discs collect fluid and swell while we sleep. For people with low back pain or a history of back pain this swelling can make it difficult and often painful to bend forward or sit in the morning. It is better to spend more time standing and walking during the first few hours upon waking to allow that swelling to go down. This will make sitting and forward bending more tolerable.

4. If you are involved in activities or an occupation that requires repetitive bending and lifting it is important to counter that forward bending motion with an opposite motion - backward bending. This is accomplished by placing your hands on your hips or in the small of your back and bending backward at the waist. Bend backwards within your tolerance without letting your knees bend then return to the upright position. If this movement causes you increased pain then don't bend back as far.

5. If you consistently wake in the morning with a stiff or achy back then try lying on your stomach for 3 to 5 minutes before getting out of bed. This may be uncomfortable at first but may feel better with time. If your pain worsens in this position then it is time to move.

6. POSTURE CHECK! We should all be aware of our postural positions throughout the day. This includes standing, walking, sitting, dynamic postures (i.e. bending) and lying down. Be aware of the position of your low back and what position feels best for you. The old school of thought was that we all had to sit and stand soldier straight at all times. This is not the case for everyone. Erect postures can sometimes be painful for people depending on the condition that they have. In order to avoid lower back pain some people need to keep their backs slightly flexed (or flattened). Try to maintain the spinal position that is most comfortable for you keeping in mind that frequent movement is still important to prevent low back pain.

7. TIGHTEN YOUR ABS! This simple activity can work wonders in preventing a recurrence of low back pain. Imagine a line going from your belly button to the base of your neck. Now use your stomach muscles to pull your stomach along that imaginary line. This is a gentle contraction and you should not use a lot of force to make this happen. DO NOT hold your breath or "suck in your gut." You are simply tightening your abdominal muscles so that it feels like your stomach is drawing in. If this movement is too difficult then try making an "S" sound (like a snake). Making this sound will automatically contract the desired muscles and cause your stomach to draw in.

These are some very simple things we can all do on a daily basis to help prevent a recurrence or an onset of low back pain. Remember - not all of these activities will apply to all people at all times. If you experience any undue pain with the performance of these suggestions then stop immediately. Consult your physician or a licensed physical therapist for further advice.

Peter Harris is a licensed physical therapist with 17 years experience in the diagnosis and treatment of spinal pathology and low back pain related disorders. He is Certified in Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy of the Spine and a Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist. You don't need to suffer from low back pain anymore! pmh37@msn.com

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