Our spine allows us to stand upright and move freely. But having to constantly use it also means there is a multitude of ways in which we can damage it. In fact, spine conditions like backache are very common in the UK, with 8 out of 10 people being affected by low back pain at some point in their lifetime, reports the NHS.
Keeping our backs in good shape should be a priority for all of us and it’s critical to seek professional help if you frequently suffer from severe pack pain. However, there are also several things you can do to promote a healthy spine in your day-to-day life:
1. Mind your posture
Good posture is more important than many people realise. It improves muscle strength, balance and flexibility and supports the health of your spine (Royal Osteoporosis Society). On the other hand, poor posture increases stress on the muscles, joints and ligaments and can lead to damage and pain of your back, neck and shoulders.
Here are a few things you should consider when you sit:
- Keep your elbows at your side and the feet flat on the floor;
- Align your back against the back of the chair;
- Sit straight and avoid rotating your body to one side;
- Avoid bringing your head and shoulders forward and rounding your upper back;
- Avoid sitting lopsided, cross-legged or hunched forward;
You should also be aware of these when standing:
- Distribute your weight evenly on your feet;
- Keep knees relaxed;
- Lift your chest and gently pull shoulders back.
2. Adopt a correct sleeping position
Maintaining an adequate posture is essential even when you’re sleeping. Back sleeping could be the most beneficial sleeping position according to some experts, as this allows for your head, neck and spine to stay aligned.
For those who can’t sleep on their backs, side sleeping could be a good option, but no matter which type you are, aim to hold your spine in a straight position. You can use pillows to help you achieve this. At the same time, avoid sleeping on your stomach (unless your therapist tells you otherwise) as this can place great strain on your neck (NHS Foundation Trust).
3. Exercise your back and lose surplus weight
Exercising your back regularly is one of the best ways to keep your back fit and can help prevent and manage back aches, too. A few helpful exercises to take care of your back are swimming, yoga, pilates and walking.
Similarly, keeping your body active and eating a balanced diet can help reach and maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of back pain caused by excess weight pressure on the joints. Work out your BMI (body mass index) to find out whether you’re a healthy weight using the World Cancer Research Fund’s calculator.
4. Learn how to safely lift loads
Heavy lifting can injure your back by placing excess pressure on the spine and damaging the muscles, tendons or ligaments; so knowing how to safely lift is important. When you start to pick up something heavy from the floor, slightly bend your back, hips and knees instead of fully flexing your back or fully flexing your knees. Keep the load hugged close to your chest and avoid twisting your back. Read more tips on handling heavy objects from the Health and Safety Executive.
5. Carry a back-friendly bag
We often find ourselves carrying heavy bags around. This can take a toll on our backs, especially if we choose handbags or shoulder bags that distribute the weight unevenly. That’s why, BackCare advises going for backpacks and rucksacks that:
- Have two wide padded straps. Make sure you wear them on both shoulders;
- Can be adjusted so they sit firmly on your upper back;
- Have a waist strap (this can distribute the weight better);
- Have a padded back that gives the right lumbar support.
Moreover, think about how much you carry. As a guideline, BackCare suggests not exceeding 10% of your body weight.
6. Understand the risks of wearing high heels
Wearing high heels is a fashion choice, but you should probably think twice before doing it. When they’re worn often, high heels can lead to permanent problems not only with your feet and knees, but also with the spine. When you wear this type of shoes, the body’s centre of gravity moves forward thus making a greater arch in the back while forcing you to bend your knees a little to keep balance. This puts a high pressure through your knees and up the spinal joints, causing back pain.
7. Benefit from a back massage
Massaging your back can be more than just a feel-good sensation and it is often recommended by medical professionals to relieve back ache. A back massage can increase blood flow, ease tension and help your back feel more relaxed and flexible.
8. Quit smoking
Stopping smoking is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your overall wellbeing. It can also promote spine health as smoking is thought to reduce the blood supply to the discs between the vertebrae, leading to the degeneration of the discs.
9. Plan your day
There are many opportunities during the day when we can put our backs in uncomfortable situations, so planning ahead could be a good way to avoid this. Organize your day so that you can alternate sitting with standing and walking, take regular breaks and fit some exercise in. Additionally, think about your diet, smoking habits, your footwear and your load. Last but not least, make time to do something you find enjoyable and relaxing while being kind to your back.
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.