Watch Your Back: How to Avoid Back Injuries and Back Pain

Watch Your Back: How to Avoid Back Injuries and Back Pain

Jun 05, 2015

Watch Your Back: How to Avoid Back Injuries and Back Pain

Back problems run the gamut from minor annoyances to major pains. Our providers have tips on how to stop trouble before it starts. 

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), 80 percent of Americans will suffer from at least one significant episode of back pain during their lives. Fortunately, you can reduce or eliminate your risk of back problems with these sensible steps from Dr. Paul Johnson and Dr. Luke Madigan.

Get a Move On 

A sedentary lifestyle is a major cause of back problems, according to KOC physician Paul H. Johnson, M.D., a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and spine specialist.

“Our bodies are meant to move,” he says. “But people are usually sitting all day at work, and then they come home and sit in front of the TV. If we are in static postures too long, our joints become less efficient and more prone to injury.”

Dr. Johnson recommends taking breaks to move and stretch throughout the day. Incorporating movement into your day at a work can be particularly challenging if you are desk-bound. Try these tips:

  • Take a short walk
  • Sit up tall and stretch your arms to the ceiling
  • Hug your knees to your chest one at a time
  • Slowly roll your shoulders up and back
  • Flex your body parts through their entire range of normal motion.

Dr. Johnson also endorses activities that promote stretching and strenthening the body in every direction, such as yoga and tai chi. To prevent injuries, always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Work It Out

A consistent exercise program is equally vital, says KOC physician Luke Madigan, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and spine specialist.

Dr. Madigan suggests engaging in aerobic exercise, such as walking or bicycling, for at least 20 minutes two or three days a week. It’s also important to alternate aerobic activity with exercise that improves strength and flexibility, such as weight training and stretching.

In particular, people should pay attention to their abdominal muscles, which help stabilize the spine. “Oftentimes our backs are not the weakest link—it’s our abdominals,” Dr. Madigan explains.

Instead of sit-ups, which can put excess strain on the neck, he suggests “crunch” exercises, which focus on abdominal contractions.

“Being overweight weakens abdominal muscle tone and leads to poor posture, too,” Dr. Madigan adds. “Follow a sensible diet to maintain a healthy weight.”

Stand Up Straight

When your mother told you not to slouch, she was right. Good posture is critical to a healthy back.

The spine naturally curves gently back and forth from the neck down to the lower back, yet all of the curves act to provide a straight spine. Anytime you alter that normal alignment, you put yourself at risk for injuries because you’re stressing your spine in an unnatural way, Dr. Johnson explains.

You can instantly improve your posture by keeping your back straight when standing and sitting. For example, the AAOS suggests that when sitting at a desk you keep your back in a normal, slightly arched position. Your chair should support your lower back. Keep your head and shoulders erect, and make sure your work surface is at the right height so that you don’t have to lean forward or slouch. 

Don’t Overload Yourself

If you routinely carry a heavy backpack, purse or even a baby carrier, you could be putting excess strain on your back. Limit backpack loads to 20 percent of your body weight, especially for children and teenagers.

Padded straps are ideal, as they don’t dig into your shoulders and cut off circulation. Always position a backpack on both shoulders—not just one. Learn about other backpack safety tips here.

As for purses, avoid overloading them as well, and be sure to alternate shoulders periodically.

Listen to Your Body 

Pain is your body’s way of saying “back off.” So, if you feel pain during any physical activity, stop what you’re doing and take a break.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t test your limits a little bit, Dr. Madigan says. “When you’re stretching, for example, you want to feel some resistance to know you’re challenging and working the muscles.” 

Don’t Light Up

Looking for an easy way to avoid a host of health issues in addition to back pain? Don’t smoke.

According to Dr. Johnson, smoking can accelerate the aging process of the discs that cushion the spine. Smoking also increases the risk of exercise-related injuries. Click here to learn more about how smoking can affect musculoskeletal health.

Be Good to Yourself

As important as exercise and activity are to a healthy back, relaxation and downtime are equally vital, Dr. Madigan says. Giving your body a respite or encouraging renewal through massage therapy can relieve tight muscles and stress, both of which can contribute to back pain.

When to See Your Doctor

Mild or moderate back pain can often be treated with rest and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications (NSAIDs). But if the pain persists for more than a day or two, see a doctor.

You should also see a doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Muscle weakness or numbness
  • Pain that radiates down an arm or leg
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Pain that keeps you awake at night
  • Visibly crooked posture

If you are experiencing the symptoms above, do not hesitate to contact us at 865-558-4400 or request an appointment online.

Related Resources:

Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) - Preventing Back Pain at Work and at Home 

AAOS – Low Back Pain



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