A Healthy
BACK for LIFE
ESSENTIAL EVERYDAY TIPS
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CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION – HOW’S YOUR BACK
1
BACK TO BASICS
1
THOSE DISCS
2
DO’S AND DON’TS
2-3
WHEN SHOULD YOU SEEK HELP
3
HOW TO THINK WITH YOUR BACK
4
CAN I REALLY HELP MY BACK AS I SLEEP
4
HOW TO BEGIN YOUR DAY THE BACK FRIENDLY WAY
4
EXERCISE - YOUR BACK’S BEST FRIEND
5
WALKING - THE HEART’S AND BACK’S BEST FRIEND
6
WARM UP AND COOL DOWN
7
STRETCH IT OUT
7
LIFTING - MAKE IT EASY ON YOUR BACK
7
DRIVING AND BACK HEALTH
8
HOW’S YOUR POSTURE
8
WORKING ON YOUR BACK
8
YOUR SEATED WORKSPACE
8
YOUR STANDING WORKSPACE
9
YOUR BACK FEET
9
DIET FOR BACK HEALTH
9
YOUR BACK AND WATER
10
STRESS AND YOUR BACK - RECOGNISING STRESS
10
REDUCING STRESS
10
RELIEVING STRESS
10
PREGNANCY - WHY YOUR BACK HURTS
11
PREGNANCY ALTERS YOUR CENTRE OF GRAVITY
11
PREVENTION 11
GOLDEN RULES TO A HAPPY BACK - MAKING LIFE EASY FOR YOURSELF
11
WHERE TO FROM HERE
13
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3
1.0 Introduction HOW’S YOUR BACK?
The number of times a day you don’t get asked this
question isn’t surprising.
Few people are really interested in the state of your
back – why, most don’t even think about their own...
until something goes wrong with it! And that’s just the
problem; few of us think enough of how we look after
one of the most sensitive areas of our body – strong,
yes, but still sensitive. If we did we would have fewer
spinal problems, neck pain, muscular disturbances and,
indeed, less need for the services of chiropractors.
People are gifted with a freedom of movement that
allows them to enjoy a wealth of pursuits; walking,
jogging, gardening, horse riding, fishing, socialising
with friends, and retail therapy...whatever makes you
happy. At the heart of that mobility is a healthy back.
Unfortunately when life’s toils take their toll, the spine
is often one of the first places affected.
It doesn’t take much – often it is as simple as jumping
up too suddenly from the dinner table or being in too
much of a hurry to play that regular game of squash
you enjoy and not bothering to warm up first. The
first agony of the back twisted at an acute angle to
reach your opponent’s shot has to be experienced to
be believed!
It could simply be that you’ve been sitting hunched
over a desk or computer for hours on end and now
your neck is telling you the story by way of surges
of pain through your shoulder and down your arm.
Whatever the reason, it is only once the nagging ache
or that sharp, stabbing pain start to set in that the
realisation of what you might have done hits home.
Your back is, as ‘they’ say, ‘out’...so what do you do
about it? What will put an end to the agony? Well,
many people will immediately reach for the pain
killers, and this is a perfectly natural thing to want to
do. After all, you want the pain to go away so that you
can get on with the day-to-day living. Having taken
something to deaden the pain (for that is precisely and
ALL that pain killers do – deaden the pain temporarily)
now you NEED to know how you can eliminate the
awful feeling that pain helps to spread around the rest
of your body.
The objective of this publication is to demonstrate one
of the ways, if not the best way, to handle the situation
of the back that has been ‘put out’. Included will also
be tips on how to avoid putting it out in the first place.
Initially, then, we need to know the basics of how the
back (spine) functions and its relative importance in
the order of the human skeleton and how we use and
sometimes abuse it.
2.0 BACK TO BASICS
The spinal cord is vital to the functioning of your
entire body. All sensations and all the organs from
the nape of your neck to the cuticles of your toe nails
rely solely on that one main highway of electricallycharged cables.
With the correct care and protection provided by the
muscles, ligaments and bones the highly sensitive
nerves emanating from and running down the spinal
column are safe from damage. If, on the other hand,
we disregard some obvious precautions, it is generally
our back/neck that lets us know in no uncertain and
often very sharp terms; the pain is at first noticeable
and then unbearable.
The good thing is that you have the opportunity to
make choices and implement real change to ensure
you enjoy a healthy back for life. So, whether or not
you are in good shape or are experiencing back pain
of varying degrees or are recovering from that all
pervading pain in the neck, take heart and discover
some of the ideas that will make a healthy back a
natural part of your everyday existence rather than an
episodic cycle of pain and discomfort.
Whatever the condition or state of your back the
information here will help you to get back on the road
to recovery or simply aid in the maintenance of your
existing healthy spine.
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Either way we will be offering some recommendations
for minimising your discomfort, avoiding damage and
engaging in a mindset for ongoing back health or
when to seek specialist advice.
2.1 THOSE DISCS
Whereas some back problems are related to those
almost legendary discs between vertebrae in the spine
we find, when we speak to a practiced chiropractor,
that not all pain in the spine or lumbar region is as the
direct result of a so-called ‘slipped disc’.
This is, of course, where we would do well to turn to
the very person who is most likely not only to erase
the pain but also to put you ‘back’ in the condition
you were before you did the damage – your friendly
chiropractor. We all know that the spine, spinal
column, backbone, whatever name we give it, is a
strong but, nevertheless, highly sensitive region of the
human body. The difference between your backbone
and that of the experienced chiropractor is that she/
he knows much better how to take care of it – their
own and yours. Most chiropractors practice what
they preach so, if your chiropractor is walking around
upright and without pain it’s a fair bet that they’re
doing what they’re telling you to do.
A chiropractor will generally tell you that, when
healthy, the bones of the spine are strong and dense.
They need to be – one of your spine’s main jobs is to
protect your spinal cord. The spine has four regions
- starting from:
• the neck and then*
• progressing to the pelvis *the regions which are
• the cervical region,*
• the thoracic region,*
• the lumbar region*
• the sacral region.*
A chiropractor knows and is very familiar with the
function of each of these areas. She/he will also be
aware of what the region looks and feels like when its
joints are working normally, or not – chiropractors
call these joint problems subluxations. But, whatever
we call them, the fact remains that the spine is a
precious area of the body and should therefore be
treated as such. It may be fairly flexible but it does
prefer certain positions over others. Consequently
posture is important during our everyday activities –
moving, standing or sitting.
At one time or another we have all jerked our body
sharply in one direction or another and felt that ‘ouch’
twinge of pain. Momentarily we paused in what we
were doing, assured ourself that the pain wasn’t
continuing, and gone on with the activity thinking all
was fine. The secret in moving is to warm up first –
even when getting up into a standing position after
sitting for some time. Many of these points are obvious
– as obvious as the somewhat hackneyed saying that
‘prevention is better than cure’.
We all know this; what we don’t all know is how we
can apply the rules of ‘prevention’ to help us to avoid
doing silly things with our backs that put us out of
physical (and sometimes even mental) action!
Here are a few practical tips to preventing damage to
our back; some of them will be obvious but, like many
things, they become obvious only once someone has
pointed them out to us.
3.0 DO’s & DONT’s
> DOs
• Bending, twisting or even just moving in a limited
range is something the spine appreciates – try
not to make sudden, jerky or sharp movements
• Do move often and carefully if your work or
hobby places you in one position for prolonged
periods
• Lift objects with a straight back, using the (bent
leg) muscles to take equal parts of the strain.
Always think about looking to the ceiling when
5
you are about to lift. This will automatically shift
your lower back into a more stable position.
• Lift heavy objects from between your two feet
and with arms and legs slightly flexed, not
straight (actually, try not to lift heavy objects at
all – use a fork-lift)
•
When you are about to lift something,
consciously brace your abdominal muscles.
These muscles offer welcome support to your
back
•
When is a good time to hold your tummy
muscles? Answer : All the time
•
Regular and gentle exercise to keep an all
round suppleness in the muscles and ligaments
– in turn this will strengthen, manipulate and
lubricate the spinal region helping it to resist
injury
• If driving long distances, plan to take a 10 minute
break every 2 hours to get out and walk around.
This helps you not fall asleep at the wheel, but it
also helps to prevent the back from fatiguing as
well
•
Ensure that you use good luggage that has
wheels. They are there for a reason.
> DON’TS
• Don’t overdo exercise
•
Don’t repeat the same movement too many
times – overuse syndrome is the result and can
often lead to quite serious injury to the back.
• Don’t smoke. The discs in the spine have poor
blood supply at the best of times. Smoking will
compromise these blood vessels as it does your
whole vascular system. With reduced blood
comes reduced nutrients and oxygen. This
means the daily repair work our body does is
less effective. As the discs are less able to do
their regeneration each day (or night more
accurately) degeneration results over time.
• Don’t leave any strain or injury before seeking
some attention, no matter how mild you
consider them. A chiropractor will be able to
tell you what the problem is and how it may be
cared for – especially if you get this attention as
soon as possible after the injury. Because most
back pain is the result of stress on the body (in
one form or another) and this stress emanates
from at least one or, commonly, a combination
of physical, chemical or emotional imbalances
it is vital to good health to obtain attention with
minimum delay. If left untreated the body starts
to compensate which can lead to wear and tear
on joints, vertebrae, discs, muscles, nerves or
ligaments and a weakness in various parts of the
body. This can lead to more serious problems
developing.
4.0 WHEN SHOULD YOU
SEEK HELP?
Quite simply, if it hurts, get it checked. Many people
forget the obvious – that pain is a warning that the
body needs attention; to ignore this is courting trouble
over the long term. Many minor injuries, if caught at
the outset of pain, can be rectified with little or no
bother (and minimal cost).
Muscle pulls and strains, although quite common, can
be severe. Other spinal tissues can also experience
injuries. Ligaments can be sprained or torn, joints can
become irritated, and of course, spinal discs can be
moved out of position. Some people attempt to treat
their own back injuries, maybe even getting someone
in the family to massage the injured area. After a strain
or injury to the back, the body can have a variety
of natural reactions causing numerous symptoms,
including back pain. If, after rest, your severe back pain
has not subsided, you should seek professional help.
In such cases the only way to relax intense spasms
is with the assistance of a health care professional; it
is at such times that your friendly chiropractor looks
really good!
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It isn’t only muscle or ligament strains that present
the back with pain – other mis-alignments can cause
pressure on nerves and present the arms or legs with
tingling sensations or numbness. If these symptoms
are present, whether or not you are aware of having
‘tweaked’ your back, then this is a good time to seek
help. It is critical to realise that serious injuries that are
ignored or are dealt with incorrectly can be dangerous,
leading to further impairment and possibly irreparable
damage.
5.0 HOW TO THINK WITH
YOUR BACK
The great thing is that you have the perfect opportunity
to change many of your daily habits into ‘back friendly’
activities, thus minimising risk to your back health.
The best advice I have ever received regarding a
preventative back mindset is to “Think with your back”.
Modern life is in a big hurry but, when it comes
to the health of your back, it pays to move at your
own pace. As anyone who has suffered from severe
back pain will tell you, there are ways of performing
different activities in everyday life that minimise the
risk of damaging your back and simplify tasks in a
commonsense manner; the result is that it makes
your life easier. Ease into any physical activity rather
than charging in head-long. Don’t have false pride,
ask for help to lift heavy items where you need it; set
up your work and play spaces for convenience and
comfort. Why make life difficult for yourself by storing
frequently used items in uncomfortable, difficult to
reach locations? That other favourite and well-used
axiom ‘work smarter not harder’ works here too.
The overriding maxim is to ‘think with/for your back’.
The best way to do this is to train yourself to be aware
of the different activities you perform on a daily basis
and to take notice when you feel forces and stresses
applied to your back.
It is likely that there are ways you can adjust your
approach to these activities to make life easier on your
spine. However, it requires a conscious choice to be
‘back aware’.
This alone could be one of the greatest paradigm
shifts you can make to ensure a healthy back for life.
The great thing is, you’ll find there are myriad ways
you can make life easier on yourself which, when
combined, give your back the best chance of staying
healthy. You will quickly embrace ‘back healthy’ habits;
the dividends of your new mindset will last a lifetime.
6.0 C
AN I REALLY HELP MY
BACK AS I SLEEP?
A third of our lives is spent in bed - it is the time
when our body takes the opportunity to rejuvenate
and replenish itself, consequently it is in bed that we
should spend ‘quality time’! By this I mean ensure that
we get the best night’s sleep possible – every night.
Among other factors the shape, type and condition of
your mattress will determine the quality of your sleep.
If your spine is in an unnatural position for much of
your sleeping hours you should expect back problems.
Connect the dots on a common sense basis and it all
adds up to the answer to your backache or otherwise.
Here are some tips to follow for taking care of your back
while at the same time getting a good night’s sleep:
• Establish whether you have a mattress that is
too soft – in more cases than we would believe
backache is due to a mattress that ‘bends too
much in the middle’. If you are considering
investing in a new orthopaedically-designed
mattress, take the time to find the perfect fit
for you.
• Lie on a range of different mattresses and have
your companion or the sales assistant assess
whether your back is positioned neutrally in
your usual sleeping posture (not on your front).
Make sure your partner lies on the bed with you
as this can also affect your positioning. When
you are considering price take into account the
7
fact that you spend a quarter to a third of your
life in bed - the investment should match the
importance.
• You can effectively ‘injure’ your back while asleep
– if you lack the correct support in relation to
posture it is the likely reason for that backache
you feel upon waking. Your body needs to
change positions as you sleep; if you’re lying
in a trough you could be damaging your spine
without being aware of it.
HOW TO BEGIN YOUR DAY THE ‘BACK
FRIENDLY’ WAY
As you lie in bed your muscles, ligaments, tendons
and bones (including spinal vertebrae) all tend to relax
completely. Upon waking and beginning to get out of
bed all these body parts are being asked suddenly to
work together.
While you’re getting ready in the morning to start your
day there are a number of actions that could put stress
on your back. As you move and turn to swing your
legs out of bed remember that for much of the night,
during sleep, your spine has almost certainly been
reclining in one position – at least for the last hour or
so of slumber.
If you then move to jump your legs to the floor
rather than swing them gently into position, the stillresting body parts are likely to receive an unwelcome
awakening; the spine most of all.
The correct way is to move gently into a sitting
position whilst still thinking of how your back is
reacting to what is, to most of us in winter especially,
an unpleasant sensation, even at the best of times.
For some it pays to stretch before you get out of
bed, stretching helps to warm the body and make
it more supple. Gentle supported movements get
the circulation going and prepare you mentally for
getting up.
Getting out of bed may sound simple, but if you have
ever experienced back pain, you will be only too aware
that this fundamental task can be totally challenging.
If your bed is low to the ground you are making life
difficult for yourself. Once it is elevated you don’t have
as far to get up - it’s that simple.
When it comes to getting out of bed, the secret is
to use your supported weight to your advantage,
minimise any twisting movements keeping your spine
in the vertical plane (upright). Roll onto your side then
raise your knees with your legs supported on the bed.
Use your hands to lift your torso as you slide your
feet and legs from the bed and towards the ground
until you are in a seated position. Stand up using the
assistance of your hands on your thighs. When you are
getting back into bed, you simply reverse the process.
Now you are up, stay aware. Your back is still warming
up so beware of bending over casually at the wash
basin with your weight unsupported. Your upper body
is a heavy weight to leverage across an unprepared
back. Use the bench, wall or wash basin for support
wherever possible. You really don’t want to have to
admit to your friends that you put your back out while
brushing your teeth!
When you go to the toilet, make sure you support
your weight on the way up and down. If you thought
it would be embarrassing telling people you injured
yourself brushing your teeth, imagine telling them the
toilet was the culprit.
Now it’s time to put on your shoes. For someone with
back pain, it’s a long way down to your feet. Lifting
your foot up onto a chair will alleviate a lot of the
bending. Some of the best friends you will find are
short socks and long shoe horns - if your partner can
help you, all the better.
EXERCISE – YOUR BACK’S BEST FRIEND
Some people cringe at the sound of the word ‘exercise’
but, if they were to realise how important it is to
incorporate exercise into their everyday lives and practice
it regularly, many would weigh less and be physically
fitter! We are all aware of the benefits of exercise to
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help with so many aspects of our personal well-being,
and probably none more so than that of the back.
In the absence of a little regular exercise the body
protests in many ways, from becoming overweight, to
circulation problems, diabetes, heart conditions and
a host of other emotional as well as physical ailments
being presented.
The spine and back benefit from a little regular exercise
bearing in mind that this region of the body is asked to
handle much of the daily load we place on it through
work and play. But what if you have a backache? In
such cases you will not feel like doing any exercise.
By the same argument if you don’t get at least some
regular exercise your back is almost certainly going
to ache at some point; it becomes a vicious cycle if your back hurts, you will probably stop exercising.
But if you stop exercising, you are more likely to injure
your back. Without exercise, you can easily put on
extra weight.
More weight puts additional stress and strain on your
back, making it hurt even more, and so it goes around
However, even if your back is bothering you, it is
important to get at least a little exercise. Movement
helps to keep the joints in your back lubricated and
loose.
Life might bombard you with pressures that limit your
time to exercise, but we are talking about your quality
of life so, start to make it ‘back friendly’ and find the
time. You don’t have to go out and run a marathon,
we’re talking about a simple walk, a change in the
way you are performing everyday activities, a ride on
your bike, an easy swim; these are all activities we
have enjoyed as kids but may not have maintained as
the years have gone by. If you are serious about your
back’s health, you should definitely make exercise an
integral part of your life - but where do you start?
Well, before rushing out and buying a new home gym
it would be wise to check things with your friendly
chiropractor.
If you have had any form of back or, for that matter,
any other health condition, it is critical for you to talk
to your local health practitioner to make sure they
approve your anticipated regime. You wouldn’t take a
car out to race unless you knew its mechanical parts
had been thoroughly checked. You certainly don’t
want to aggravate a back condition by doing the
wrong activities.
The important thing is to start small - allow time
for recovery by pacing yourself with easy exercise
at regular intervals. Build it up, together with your
cardio-vascular fitness, to a level with which you are
comfortable. Set yourself some basic goals, not too
high to begin with, and become consistent. If you are
carrying more weight than you would like, an exercise
program is likely to shed some of the excess weight ,
thus also reducing the burden on your spine.
WALKING – THE HEART’S AND BACK’S
FRIEND
One of the easiest activities you can embrace is
walking. You can squeeze a walk in at lunch time to
the local shops, to wind down after a hard day’s work
or to deliver a parcel.
Better still, a regular brisk half-hour walk on the
beach or in the park on a daily basis will soon have
you thinking, breathing and enduring the day’s little
obstacles much better. Sometimes it is just good to
get outdoors away from the routine and to stretch
your legs. Beware of your posture, stride out tall
(even if you are short!). A good idea to keep in mind
is that a lot of our beaches aren’t level – especially at
anything except high and low tide. If you ever wonder
how much that difference that small slope makes, try
walking around for a while with only one shoe on. If
tides require you to walk on the slope, make sure you
walk the same distance back the other way. This will
balance you back out again and not put unnecessary
pressure on your back.
Be relaxed, enjoying the freedom of the fresh air,
sunlight and nature, at the same time engaging the
muscles and joints to strengthen your back. As your
fitness improves (and it doesn’t take long) you can
9
adventure out on your bike. Riding a bike is a low
impact exercise but definitely requires an awareness
of your posture. Make sure your bike is correctly set
up to deliver a comfortable, healthy riding position.
If you have any doubts about correct posture here,
take your bike to your local cycle shop. These people
know bikes better than most as they love their sport
and often study the world’s best. They will be able to
give you tips on how to best set yourself up.
A swim in the pool or your local beach is also
great for your back, engaging the muscles and
ligaments, lubricating the joints in a supported watery
environment. The resistance helps your muscles
to work and your back to stretch. If you are at all
concerned, avoid the surf. An unexpected wave
caught at a wrong angle may be enough to set you
back to square one. Calm water is the key. This doesn’t
mean you just go for a float. There is work involved
here. A lot of people aren’t strong swimmers, and
that’s okay. Walking in water is excellent – try about
elbow deep. There is virtually no impact or jarring. The
water supports your weight. Your arms legs and back
are being worked against resistance with every step
you take. The harder you try to move, the stronger the
water pushes back – it’s a great whole body workout.
WARM UP AND COOL DOWN
Before any form of physical activity be sure to warm
up for a minimum of five to ten minutes beforehand,
this will prepare you for action and helps to prevent
injuries. The purpose of the warm up is to adjust the
muscles to the more intense activity level to come gradually enough to prevent injury. Running gently on
the spot and flexing leg and arm joints and muscles is
really all you need for most pre-exercise warm-ups.
Another good philosophy is to do what you are going
to do, but do it at half pace. So if you plan to walk fast,
have some time walking gently. If you want to run,
make sure you walk first. Riding – ease into it with
a slow roll for a couple of blocks. Swimming – do a
couple of gentle laps and stretches before beginning
your ‘real’ laps. The important thing is to ease into
heavier exercise slowly and gently. Remember, if the
weather is cold, your warm-up NEEDS to be longer.
Cooling down is just as important as warming up.
Stretching relieves muscle tightness, which is one
cause of back pain. Stretching also helps to balance
the action of muscles, enhancing ideal alignment and
relieving joint strain.
STRETCH IT OUT
When it comes to stretches, talk to your health care
professional or exercise consultant. Every back and
every condition is slightly different and you want to
make sure you are doing the right stretches to suit
your back health. As an individual you must make
sure that any exercise you engage in is specific to you
and you alone. This is the major reason (apart from
keeping up with the Beverly Hill Billies) that the stars
engage personal trainers – they are personal to them.
Here are a few basic rules you can apply:
• Bouncing is for balls, not your muscles
• The 15 second rule – hold the muscle
stretched for up to 15 seconds to feel the
stretch
• Take a break between stretches returning to
the neutral balanced state before starting again
• Know your limits – stretch until you feel mild
tension – no further
• Relax and take your time – it isn’t a race; go
easy and ‘feel’ your stretches.
LIFTING – MAKE IT EASY ON YOUR BACK
Before you lift any object, you must first make sure that
you are capable of lifting it. After you have determined
that you can lift the object, position yourself over the
object, with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Try
to get the object between your legs, when possible,
so that you don’t have to reach out for it. Squat down,
keeping your head up, shoulders back, and spine
erect – feet shoulder width apart. The bending should
come only from your hips, knees, and ankles – BACK
STRAIGHT.
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Get a good hold on the object and lift it with your
head up, (NOT bent forward), using your legs to lift.
Remember to think about looking to your ceiling.
Your leg muscles are the strongest muscles in your
body, and even though it takes more energy to use
them, they can handle a lift better than your back.
Keep the object close to your body; lifting or holding
an object close to your stomach rather than at arm’s
length greatly reduces the stress on your back and
spine.
Set the object down using the same technique you
used to lift it.
When picking up light objects that require you to bend
right over, make sure you use a support. Hold your
weight against a nearby solid object as you bend over
to pick up anything; your back shouldn’t have to have
all the strain placed on it.
DRIVING AND BACK HEALTH
Many of us actually spend far too much of our time
behind the wheel of a car. However, few people
give very much thought to what should be not only
a comfortable but also a safe driving position, or what
damage our car seats, if incorrectly positioned, might
be doing to our backs. Here are some driving position
tips to keep your back comfortable and ache and
pain-free, and also to help keep you safe when you’re
at the wheel:
Let’s start with how you get in and out of the car. It
may pay to slide the seat right back when getting
in and out to give you some room. Use the same
principle as getting in and out of bed, where you
keep your weight supported throughout the action.
Slide and rotate (swivel) your body on your butt with
knees together rather than twisting. Use the steering
wheel, seat, door frame and handles to support your
weight rather than leveraging your weight in a twisting
motion across your back.
Now you are seated, adjust your seat to a comfortable
position where you can comfortably reach all the
controls in your car with mirrors adjusted appropriately.
Having done all this take a moment to consciously
become aware of your back’s position in the order
of all that has just gone before. If you are happy with
your position at the wheel you are now ready to drive
even long distances with minimal strain on neck, back
or shoulders.
HOW’S YOUR POSTURE?
Poor posture stresses your back. When you slouch or
stand with a swayback position (where your low back
curves too far inward), you exaggerate your back’s
natural curves. Such posture can lead to muscle
fatigue and injury. In contrast, good posture relaxes
your muscles and requires minimal effort to balance
your body. When standing, aim for feet shoulder width
apart, knees slightly bent, back straight and head in
alignment.
When sitting try not to slump or slouch; poor posture,
such as slouching when sitting or standing, can place
a great deal of stress on your muscles, ligaments, and
discs. This stress can make it more difficult for proper
healing to occur and may increase back pain. Choose
postures and positions that allow you to keep your
back relatively straight – imagine the base of your
neck in line with and immediately above the base of
your spine.
WORKING YOUR BACK
Most people work several days a week, some sitting,
some standing and some on the move. The bottom
line is that no matter what you do, your back will
benefit from positive back-friendly choices.
YOUR SEATED WORKSPACE
Many people work in offices and spend long periods of
their day seated, often using computers or answering
the phone. If you are in this type of occupation a good
ergonomic chair will always be beneficial. Look for a
chair with a positive lumbar (lower back) support. It
should allow you to nestle comfortably into it with
your back well supported. Adjust your seat height so
11
that your feet rest flat on the floor.
Another school of thought is to avoid the backrest
completely. Sit on the front edge of the chair with
your feet tucked in underneath you. This will mean
that your knees sit lower than your hips. This position
encourages the natural lumbar curve to be maintained
and reduces the pressure on the discs in your lower
back. This also allows for more options of posture.
By moving one foot forwards, into almost a running
stance, you can shift how you are carrying your
weight. By then alternating to the other foot forwards,
you get to change again. The important thing is that
the longer you go without moving, the more likely
“plastic ligament deformation” will occur. This means
that your ligaments act more like chewing gum, rather
than an elastic band. This tends to kick in around the
20 to 30 minute mark. By regularly changing your
posture, you give the weight bearing parts of your
back a chance to recover.
For some a pneumatic ball is preferable as it requires
the engagement of the core muscle groups to hold a
comfortable seated position. Whilst not for everybody,
particularly those with weaker muscle groups, the
ball can become a constant subconscious exercise
tool due to the need to adjust and move to sustain a
comfortable balance.
Armrests on chairs or the support of a desk are
preferable to avoid tired upper back, neck and
shoulders from the load of carrying the weight of
your arms.
The set up of your workstation is crucial to long term
comfort and back health. Set up your monitor directly
in front of your seated position to avoid twisting your
upper body; your eye level should be roughly in line
with the upper part of the screen. If you regularly refer
to documents use holders and clips to align these
materials in your direct line of sight to avoid constant
twisting and adjusting as you read. Don’t forget to
move position from time to time.
If you are using a laptop it might pay to purchase an
elevation stand to lift the screen up to a more suitable
height. Take intermittent breaks to get up and move
around to keep your back muscles active – go to the
printer, discuss issues with a colleague, take a breath
of fresh air, whatever works for you. If you are using
the telephone frequently or for long periods at a time,
especially whilst typing, avoid holding the phone
between your head and shoulder. It may be time to
use a headset instead so you can stay hands free.
YOUR STANDING WORKSPACE
If your job requires you to stand for long periods
of time your back has to endure the compressive
forces of gravity weighing down on your spine. There
are a few little tricks you can employ to reduce the
burden on your back. Keeping some mobility in your
back through rocking your weight from side to side
will keep the muscle groups engaged and the blood
flowing. Make sure you take intermittent walks or mix
it up with a combination of sitting and standing. It is
helpful if you can locate a small step up so you can
alternate your legs in an elevated position, relaxing the
muscles in the pelvis and thigh and alleviating some
of the stresses on the lower back. If you have a bench
at a comfortable height, use it to support your weight
when you can; every little bit helps. Try not standing
directly on concrete – have a mat under your feet.
Concrete tends to have a ‘drawing’ effect on feet,
calf muscles and lower back that causes a cramp-like
sensation in the nether regions of the body! Avoid
bending forward whilst working at a desk.
YOUR BACK FEET
Your selection of footwear can have a marked affect
on the health and condition of your back. Shoes with
good arch support and absorptive cushioning are
best. If you are frequently feeling discomfort it may
pay to visit your local podiatrist to evaluate your foot
condition and prescribe the right solution for you
personally. High heeled shoes might be considered a
fashion accessory for work, but they are not necessarily
a woman’s best friend. They can cause increased
curvature of the spine, compressing the facet joints
and causing discomfort. Where possible, look for
lower heals and make sure you wear comfortable
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walking shoes to and from work.
DIET FOR BACK HEALTH
Selecting the appropriate diet is crucial to overall good
health. When we speak of ‘diet’ we’re not referring to
one of the many temporary but strict food deprivation
sagas that some poor souls wishing to lose weight
‘go on’ on a fairly regular but unfruitful basis! True
diet is a balanced pattern of nutrition intake that
someone who values their health lives on from day
to day – LONG TERM. Many diets offered to ‘help you
lose heaps of kilos’ turn out to be fad diets that most
people abandon after a couple of months.
Diet, then, is a regimen that doesn’t necessarily have
to be regimented.
To help all parts of the body from head to toe we all
need a healthy intake of daily food. However, what
one person calls ‘healthy’ another would turn their
nose up at, so ‘good food’ is very much a matter of
individual taste so, that’s precisely how you should
look at your own daily diet (food intake). (Maybe “a
matter of individual taste” is a poor choice of phrase –
taste is often our worst enemy, especially if our body
is conditioned to craving some of the poor choices
of food. I’m certain that people that have weight
problems don’t have an issue with how good the bad
things taste – even when they know they are a poor
choice. An old-time acupuncturist once told me, “Be
very careful of your taste buds – they can kill you.”)
Based on common sense and the accepted healthy
types of food (fruits, fresh vegetables, roughage, flax
seed oils, omega 3s and 6s plus the alphabet vitamins).
The correct and regular quality and quantity of food
intake leads to a healthy lifestyle. As a direct result not
only is the body able to withstand illness but, when it
does succumb to a debilitating condition it is more
likely to be able to recover; the same can be said for
injury. Healthy people respond far more quickly to
back injury care by a chiropractor.
YOUR BACK AND WATER
Water maintains the body’s fluidity; it lubricates joints
and literally keeps us moving. Drinking plenty of water
enhances the height of intervertebral disks keeping
them the healthy shock absorbers they are. Water is
necessary for nearly every bodily process so is good
to have in generous supply.
STRESS AND YOUR BACK
Recognizing Stress
Stress takes on many forms – it can be emotional,
chemical or physical stress. It shows itself in our
muscles, especially the muscles of the neck and
shoulders, often called tension headache. This begins
at the back of your neck and moves up or down (or
both) from there. A thought or series of unwanted
thoughts can bring on a ‘tension headache’.
The cause of the pain associated with headache is most
commonly connected to constriction and dilation of
the blood vessels in your neck. When your neck and
back are not getting their proper blood supply, they
let you know it with pain. Prolonged restriction of the
blood supply to the muscles can result in their being
weakened.
Weakened muscles subsequently become susceptible
to damage or strain injury. It isn’t too difficult to see
how, if the muscles in the back are out of condition,
just how easily a problem with the back can develop.
By learning to recognise stress when it appears is the
first positive step toward resolving the issue – often
before it has become a real problem. So, how do we
learn to minimize stress?
Reducing Stress
We’ve already mentioned that mental or emotional
stress can be just as damaging to the back as physical
rupture or subluxation of vertebrae. A regular ‘money
worries’ thought crossing the mind several times each
day can be highly stressful. Such ongoing emotional
tension build-up results in stress on the muscles,
13
ligaments, tendons, nerves, joints and small bones in
the neck and spine. Over a long term period it can,
and very often does, lead to serious back problems.
We live in a stressful society these days, and short
of moving out of the city for a sea or tree change
retirement, which most of us aren’t ready for, we
can’t avoid stress. Managing our stress – or more
importantly – managing our body’s responses to
stress is the key.
Relieving Stress
Recognising the emotional stress in your life is the
first secret to handling it. Notice I said ‘handling’
it - not ‘overcoming’ it or even ‘dealing with’ it. Too
many people make attempts at resolving problems by
first telling their brains that here is an obstacle to be
overcome; it isn’t. If you tell yourself that at the outset
you’ll be battling the situation up hill with a sharp stick
that’s precisely what you will face – get the picture?
The way to look at the situation you have before
you is that it is just that - a situation, nothing more;
a challenge to be ‘handled’ in a similar way to the
manner in which you would handle a simple decision
through your normal day.
Situations that concern you can be handled by mentally
standing next to them and working them out as you
would a puzzle in a childrens’ book. Another method
of handling problems, especially problem people, is
to avoid meeting up with them, that way they can’t
stress you out. Other, more mundane stressors such
as traffic hold ups and poor drivers can be viewed as
yet another small daily challenge to have fun with. In
fact many so-called stressful situations can be ‘had
fun with’. Try it, it works for me so why shouldn’t it for
you?
Another effective approach to that stressful situation
that makes you screw up your fists is ‘anticipation’.
Try pre-empting so you can prepare yourself for
outcomes.
I’ve even been to the lengths of writing down in
advance what I anticipated a particularly goofy
government department employee was going to tell
me. ‘Good fun and it eases the tension – especially
when you show what you’ve written about to the sad
person sitting next to you in the waiting room.
• Smoking and caffeine have the effect of creating
a sense of anxiety even when you aren’t anxious
about anything. Cutting down (or out) your
intake of stimulants will help reduce your stress
level.
• A walk or a run on the beach, across the park or
common on a fine or chilly day can do the trick.
Anything that takes your mind off the stress
that’s the cause of your tension can help your
overall composure - better still, eliminate the
reason.
There are almost as many ways to prevent back pain as
there are bad behaviours that cause it. A strong, healthy
back comes from removing the reasons for its aches.
PREGNANCY - WHY YOUR BACK HURTS
When you are pregnant your body produces a variety
of hormones; one of these hormones is called Relaxin.
This conveys a sense of calm and relaxation for the
birth procedure, which is precisely what it is designed
for - Relaxin causes the ligaments and the pelvis to
soften to allow the baby to pass through with ‘relative’
ease.
PREGNANCY ALTERS YOUR CENTRE OF
GRAVITY
Relaxing uterine ligaments cause additional strain to
be placed on the spine and the surrounding muscles.
The overstretched abdominal muscles are also not
equipped to handle the entire weight of the uterus so
the spine and back muscles will bear this extra load as
well. This transfers itself to the spine and, voila! Bad
Posture is the result, and we all know the result of bad
posture – backache.
PREVENTION
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Prevention is the best management for this discomfort.
Preventive measures include:
• Exercises (Particularly Pelvic Tilts)
• Practicing good posture
• Lifting and bending appropriately
GOLDEN RULES
TO A HAPPY BACK
you bend and twist unsupported, you increase
the load and induce shear forces (strain
produced by pressure) on your back causing
stress. Make a habit of facing the object you are
lifting straight on.
• Lift correctly - use your legs to take the load
where ever possible. Keep your back straight
and your head up; control your breathing (out)
as you lift.
• Be especially careful when picking up lighter
things. It is when your back is relaxed and not
prepared that it is most susceptible to injury.
•
Use leverage to your advantage when using
tools. The classic example is using a spade. The
further the distance and the more weight from
your body, the greater the load applied through
the spade and onto your back. Add twisting and
you really start to stress your back. So take it
easy, you are better off with more and smaller
loads than fewer, large loads. Make sure if you
are moving material, you are facing where you
want to put the load rather than having to twist.
•
Think before you act. If you are moving
something, plan where you are moving it from
and too so that you don’t have to encounter
clutter or a poor posture that adds risk to your
back.
• Where ever possible use mechanical devices to
take the load. Trolleys, wheel barrows, fork lift
vehicles. The correct implements are designed
to carry loads far more efficiently than your back.
• If all else fails you can call on a friend or hire
someone to help you out. Know your limits
and not to cross them. It‘s certainly not worth
enduring back pain for a moments lack of
thought or pride.
• Avoid rapid movements, especially when you
are cold - especially those that twist your back
- this is asking for trouble.
• Reconfigure your activities to reduce difficult,
repetitive tasks that put undue stress on your
Making Life Easy For Yourself
Everyday you are faced with simple activities which,
when handled with care, present little or no risk to
your back health. Done incorrectly, quickly or without
thinking, they can be the activities that take your
system beyond its comfort zone and into back pain.
Here are a few practical reminders from what we’ve
been looking at earlier to help you make life easy on
yourself and your back:
• Hold onto solid supports wherever possible so
you don’t expose your back to the lion’s share
of the load.
•
Push - don’t pull...Think of pushing a wheel
barrow and using your leg muscles to lift and
push the barrow. It’s much safer than pulling
and jerking with your back. If you are pushing,
your centre of gravity through your spine is
shifted to the posterior elements of the spine ie
the facet joints – or away from the discs. When
pulling you have to shift your weight anteriorly
which then loads up the discs. Given that many
lower back injuries are disc related, it pays to
push rather than pull.
• Keep any weight you are lifting close to your
body - the farther away the weight is from your
own centre of gravity the greater the forces are
exerted on your back.
• Your back hates bending and twisting - when
15
back.
• Plan any task you are embarking on to minimise
the amount of lifting, the distance you have to
travel and the load you have to bear. It could
be as simple as moving your car to a closer
location and loading everything in it once rather
than spending unnecessary carrying time and
effort that put risk on your back.
• Keep regularly used items in easily accessible
places so that you don’t have to reach high or
low for them.
• Keep heavy objects in ‘back friendly’ locations.
If you know you have a weighty object that you
have to move from time to time, make sure it is
stored in a readily accessible location, preferably
at waist height for ease of access.
• If you feel pain, stop what you are doing. Pain
is a warning sign. There is nothing heroic about
getting a sore back for days simply due to
stubbornness or pride.
• Maintain mobility - your back feeds and grows
and lubricates itself with movement. When
you stop, your back stops and your muscles
atrophy. If you stay still for too long, the blood
flow isn’t aerating your system and you are
more susceptible to damage.
• Know when you are stressed or tired, or perhaps
you had a little too much to drink the night
before; whenever you are feeling off colour it
is likely that your back is too. It is susceptible to
the burdens you place on your body and there
are times when it won’t respond as you would
like. If you don’t feel right, don’t test your back.
It is not always forgiving.
•
Beware of drugs - whether recreational or
medicinal, drugs are usually employed to mask
issues. They don’t resolve the problem and can
give you a false sense of security regarding your
back’s real state.
•
Your body is a total system - if you want
to strengthen your back your entire body
contributes. Strengthening your core area will
certainly add a useful reinforcement to help
stabilise your back. Consider Pilates or other
similar exercises to strengthen your body as a
system.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
There are times when your body lets you know that it
needs some help. Whether it is back pain, tiredness,
discomfort, disease or other ailments, you don’t have
to endure life’s tough grind; in fact, you deserve to get
the most out of life.
A visit to your local chiropractor could be the answer
to finding comfort, freedom, mobility and balance –
all of which lead to a more relaxed daily life.
Often, without your being aware of it, spinal
misalignments (or subluxations) are playing a role
in your discomfort or symptoms and affecting your
quality of life. These subluxations have the potential to
hamper your movement, cause chronic pain, restrict
your comfort and limit your health potential.
Fortunately, chiropractors understand the vital
relationship between your spine, your nervous system
and your total health and wellness. Chiropractic care is
about delivering the balance and freedom to your body
through your nervous system, to allow you to get the
most out of life.
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