How to prevent back pain is not as hard as you may think
Back pain is a very common complaint. Nearly 7 out of 10 people suffer from back pain, either occasionally or regularly.
As a whole, back pain is better prevented than cured. By becoming aware of your movements, adopting the right posture, healthy eating habits combined with regular back exercises, back pain need never be a part of your daily life.
In most cases, the pain is caused by bad posture and repeated bad movements.
Read on to learn how to avoid these pains by following a few simple rules on a daily basis.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to prevent back pain: Introduction
- 2 Movements and postures that cause back pain
- 3 The main causes of back pain
- 4 Secondary causes of back pain
- 5 How to prevent back pain: The right movements and positions
- 6 Everyday tips to prevent back pain
- 7 Strengthening and stretching muscles for back pain
- 8 Which exercises to choose?
- 9 How to prevent back pain: Conclusion
How to prevent back pain: Introduction
Your back pain can have different origins, and there is often no single cause.
The pain is caused by prolonged bad positions that you put your spine through. The majority of back pain could thus be avoided by prevention.
Inflammatory rheumatic diseases, congenital deformities of the spine or degenerative diseases cannot be avoided.
However, it is possible to reduce the painful symptoms by taking the same preventive measures.
Movements and postures that cause back pain
How to prevent back pain involves avoiding certain movements.
You should avoid:
- Spreading your legs too much when standing upright
- Lifting a load while leaning forward
- Carrying a weight with arms extended upwards
- Taking too many steps when walking
- Stretch the hip with standing extensions (classic calf stretch, with one leg bent forward and one leg stretched back)
- Performing too much extension of the lumbar or cervical spine (head backward)
- Wearing heels for an extended period
- Performing sudden torsions of the bust, of too great an amplitude or while carrying loads
- Playing sports that involve falls or vibrations
- Bending forward with both legs unbending
Among all these movements that are harmful to the back, we often find the same postural problems that cause pain:
- The back is too rounded. This is the case when you sit a little slumped forward with your shoulders or lift a load while bending over forward.
- The lower back is too straight. Try to raise your arms, you will see that your lower back arches. Same thing when you walk with heels, when you do very big steps or hip extension stretches.
The main causes of back pain
It is difficult to explain these pains since many possible explanations exist. Among the most common causes are:
Don’t become used to pain. Another way to prevent back pain is taking care of yourself and investing in an office chair which is good for back pain.
A small inflammation or lesion left untreated can become more serious and eventually lead to other problems.
A micro-injury will cause friction in the joint which in the long run can lead to osteoarthritis, wear and tear of the tendon, a cracked disc, fibrosis, sciatica, etc.
The weaker the back muscles, the greater the risk of developing lower back pain. Therefore, it is very important to exercise, stretch, walk, and strengthen the abdominal muscles.
Stress and overwork
Stress and overwork are one of the most common causes of back pain.
A night of bad sleep is caused by bad bedding (mattress too hard or too soft), an inadequate position, or bad habits.
Repeated bad posture
Repeated bad posture, at the office or in the car (sitting with a round back or a bent head) and other bad movements.
The vast majority of pain is related to improper use of the spine or caused by exertion.
An unbalanced diet
An unbalanced diet or one that is too rich in meat, fats and sugars does not help fight inflammation.
On the contrary, it is advisable to focus on fruits and vegetables without agricultural chemicals, Omega 3… Also consider vitamin D, which helps maintain good bone structure and plays a role in reducing pain.
Excess body weight is a factor in osteoarthritis and causes back pain
A lack of hydration
Making sure you drink enough water keeps your muscles and intervertebral discs (composed of 80% water) properly hydrated.
Osteoarthritis of the spine
Osteoarthritis of the spine can appear in mid-life due to natural wear and tear of the spine. It can manifest itself as pain or you may not notice it at all.
Unusual demands on the spine
A heavy load to carry, a move, a long car journey, etc. can cause the classic “lumbago” or the appearance of pain, most often in the lumbar region (lower back).
Secondary causes of back pain
Pain in the back may be symptomatic of a specific disease such as:
- A kidney stone
- An infection or tumor
- An ulcer in the stomach
- A dental malocclusion
- Spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis
- Fibromyalgia with diffuse and unexplained pain
How to prevent back pain: The right movements and positions
The right position and the right movement allow us to avoid these potentially painful situations.
Always try to keep your back as straight as possible, without arching or bending:
Correct seating position
Do not allow a hollow to form in the lower back so the lower back is unsupported. Instead, place a lumbar cushion or a rolled towel around the lumbar area if necessary. Keep the head, shoulders and pelvis in alignment.
Position your legs so that they are at a 90-degree angle, with your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest. And avoid crossing your legs!
Tip: When buying new furniture, look for these ergonomic features.
Lying down position
We all have a favorite sleeping position, on our back, stomach or side. Whatever the position, it is important to prevent the lower back from becoming hollow and unsupported.
On your side: place a small cushion between your waist and the mattress and another one between the two bent knees.
On your stomach: place a pillow under your hips. Ideally, it is better to avoid this position for too long because it increased the possibility of lumbar and cervical pain.
On your back: place a cushion under your knees to preserve the head-shoulder-pelvis alignment.
The right movement to pick up an object on the ground
You have several options, all designed to keep your back straight.
The “swing” involves bending one leg and bending over, lifting the other leg straight back, while you bend forward.
The “knight in shining armor” consists in putting a knee on the ground, right next to the object to be picked up.
You can also bend both legs to get closer to the ground, but always keep your back straight.
The right movement for lifting a load or lifting an object over the head
It’s useful to learn the lumbar lock:
- contract the abdominals and buttocks,
- put the pelvis in retroversion (belly pulled in and buttocks contracted),
- and slightly bend your legs.
If you are picking up a heavy object, remember to combine the correct movement (from those listed above) and exhale deeply as you lift the load (to strengthen the contraction of the abdominal muscles).
The right position for standing
Your back must remain straight while maintaining an alignment of your neck, back and heels.
Always think about retroversion of the pelvis if you are carrying something, whether in front of you or behind you.
Shoulder bags can unbalance the back on one side, so go for bags worn evenly on both shoulders.
Everyday tips to prevent back pain
There are many reflexes and tips you can apply in your daily life to prevent back pain:
- Follow the basic lifestyle advice: a balanced diet and regular physical activity.
- As you get older, consider fractionally doing things without continuing the same activity for long hours. For example, do certain tasks for a maximum of 2 hours non-stop, then have a break, like mowing the lawn or repainting the living room. It is also important to remember to warm up the body and the joints.
- Watch your weight, lose a few pounds if you are overweight.
- Avoid sports that are too violent or practiced with the wrong equipment (in the case of impact sports, such as running, invest in good running shoes that absorb shock). For the back, the worst sport is still no sport at all. It is important to stay in motion as much as possible and avoid a sedentary lifestyle to combat back pain.
- Hydrate yourself! The intervertebral discs (cushions that act as shock absorbers between each vertebra) are composed of 80% water. If you don’t drink enough water, they will be directly impacted.
- When you wake up in the morning, stretch your back. The joints have remained in the same position for a long time, it is better to remobilize them gently.
- Periods of stress and overwork are conducive to back pain. Learn to manage your stress by practicing relaxing activities: meditation, yoga, sophrology, kundalini yoga, etc.
- Wear a lumbar belt for certain activities if you are prone to back pain. Wearing it for 3 hours while gardening, for example, won’t do any harm.
- Ensure that school bags are not too heavy for the children. Preferably, opt for those with wheels.
- Avoid staying in the same position for too long. This is especially true when the static position is bad, at work, in the car or while sleeping. Move often, get out of your seat, walk.
- If you are a smoker, get help to stop smoking. Smoking degrades the intervertebral discs and therefore promotes back pain.
Strengthening and stretching muscles for back pain
The spine must be supported by strong muscles to best protect your spine.
We often think of strengthening the back muscles, but other muscle groups are just as essential.
Whatever activity you choose, depending on your tastes and physical condition, it is imperative to work:
- The gluteal muscles are essential for the “lumbar lock”, the posture to adopt as often as possible to create a protective frame around the spine.
- Arm and shoulder muscles: for the same reasons as the leg muscles. If your arms are weak, when you carry something, the muscles around the spine will strain instead. Strong arms and shoulders (without being a bodybuilder) are important to avoid back pain.
- Leg muscles: if you make the right movement to pick up a load from the ground by bending your knees, you will need strong legs to get up. Without it, your back muscles will strain and your spine will suffer.
- The muscles of the rectus and transversus abdominis. Each muscle group in our body works with an antagonist group to balance forces and movements. In addition to the back muscles, the abdominal muscles must be strengthened to create a balanced belt around the spine.
- Back muscles: never force them
Which exercises to choose?
Any exercise that you enjoy doing is the right one.There is no need to plan programs you will not follow in the long term. There are many different exercises to work the same muscle group.
Standing, sitting, lying down… The important thing is to find the one you feel comfortable with.
Contact a massage therapist or a back school to determine which ones would best suit your situation.
If you notice a slight imbalance on one side when doing exercises, work that side a little more.
The idea is to gently rebalance the muscles.
In addition to strengthening your muscles, you will also need to maintain the flexibility of your joints, tendons and ligaments.
The most important stretches to avoid back pain are:
- Hip stretches
- Stretching of the anterior and posterior thigh muscles
- Lateral stretching of the chest, with right and left tilts
- Rotational stretching of the chest: the rotations must be very gentle, to avoid causing disc pain
As with muscle strengthening exercises, learn about the different stretches that may work for you. The important thing is to practice them regularly.
How to prevent back pain: Conclusion
All of these tips apply to everyone. It is easier to remember to do them when we are in pain, we tend to forget them when everything is better.
It is a bit idealistic to think that all the right positions and movements will be done on a daily basis. This would require a complete overhaul of our habits.
Instead, applying these tips in 70% of daily movements is already a good goal that can save you a lot of pain, especially for those most at risk (physical work, family history of back problems, practice of intense sports).