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How to Wreck Your Back

You may be setting yourself up for back pain. Find out how to stop it before it starts.

Back Wrecker #3: Absentmindedness During Daily Activity continued...

And if your mind is running on auto-pilot instead of focusing on what you're doing, you could be in trouble.

"At UPS, we've seen a higher proportion of injuries occur at the end of the shift, due to fatigue of the mind and body," McMackin says.

Prevent it: Train yourself to keep your core muscles engaged.

A simple way to do that is to pull your navel toward your spine and imagine you're wearing a corset that pulls the sides of your abs inward. Doing that throughout the day -- and especially when lifting or bending -- strengthens and supports your back, says Esther Gokhale, author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back and owner of Esther Gokhale Wellness Center in Palo Alto, Calif.

Back Wreckers #4 and #5: Commuting and Computing

You sit, and you sit, and you sit some more -- at work, while driving, and in front of the TV. And your back doesn't like it. Here's why.

Your discs are spongy and cushion the vertebrae in your spine, but discs have poor blood supply, Hisey says. When you move, fluid circulates through the discs. When you sit still, the fluid is wrung out, so you're depriving discs of nutrition, he says. Spending so much time behind the wheel of a car or sitting in front of a computer adds mileage to our discs, which leads to stress in your back.

"The discs in your spine are nourished by motion," Hisey says. "So sitting still is hard on your back and neck, and can do long-term damage." Studies have also shown that sitting puts more pressure on your spine than lying down or standing up.

"The worst posture is sitting and leaning forward," Shamie says. This makes you lock your pelvis and flex your spine, putting pressure on the front of the vertebrae, where your discs are. The more you arch forward and exaggerate the curve of the spine, the more pressure you're putting on your discs. "This uneven pressure on a disc puts it at high risk of rupture," Shamie explains.

Prevent it: You're going to sit. So try these tactics to lessen its impact on your back:

  • Get up and move at least once every 20 minutes, unless you're driving. Set your screen saver to remind you; make a habit of going for a drink of water; when you answer the phone, stand up to stretch and change positions.
  • Keep your spine properly aligned by holding reading material at eye level (when sitting or standing) rather than bending over. Don't lean over a desk or table to work. Whenever possible, your spine should be straight.
  • Choose a chair that supports your back. Adjust the chair so that your feet stay flat on the floor. If the chair doesn't support your lower back's curve, place a rolled towel or small pillow behind your lower back. Remove anything from your back pockets, especially a wallet, if you'll be seated for long periods of time because this puts your spine out of alignment.

Gokhale suggests doing the following exercises to help lengthen your spine:

  • Get on your hands and knees. Reach your left arm straight ahead and straighten your right leg behind you. Use your stomach muscles to stabilize. Hold for 5-10 seconds and slowly return to starting position. Switch arm and leg. Repeat 3-5 times on each side.
  • Sit tall, lengthen your spine, and let your shoulders relax. Concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together, keeping your arms hanging at your sides. Hold for 3-5 seconds, then release. Repeat 10-20 times.

 

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