The best remedy for back pain is prevention. There are a lot of things we can do to prevent back injuries and the resulting pain, but most people don’t think about it till after it’s too late. People have a tendency to ignore the signs of growing neck or back issues and don’t do anything to correct their behaviour. But once someone has a back injury, it’s still not too late. Once the pain is gone, preventative measures should be taken to keep the back injury from recurring. Someone who has sustained an injury is four times as likely to have it happen again. Human nature has too many people thinking, “That won’t happen to me”.
Back and neck injuries are the most common as well as the most costly of any on the job injury there is. These types of injuries don’t just affect the person suffering with the pain. They cost employers lost time on the job, disability payments, and sometimes can even raise the cost of insurance premiums they must pay for the employees.
Considering that statistics show that you have an 80% chance of sustaining some type of back or neck injury in your lifetime, wouldn’t it be worth it start looking into ways of preventing this?
Back Pain and High Risk Related with Certain Occupations
There are a lot of occupations that put people at risk for back injuries. Surprisingly, the career fields at the top of the list is nursing and related skilled care jobs like home health aides. Nursing in fact, has the second highest occurrence of all kinds of non-fatal job-related injuries in the U.S. The biggest cause of these injuries is patient transfer – moving patients in and out of bed, from beds to gurneys and back again, and other ways that these healthcare workers help patients move around.
The following list shows the top ten occupations that have the most risk for back injuries. Six of the top ten are healthcare workers of some type.
- Nurses Aides
- Constructions Workers
- Garbage Collectors
- Licensed Practical Nurses
- Truck Drivers
- Registered Nurses
- Health Aides
- Radiology Technicians
- Physical Therapists
Back Pain and Smoking
As if there aren’t enough bad effects that smoking can have on your health or enough reasons to quit smoking, here is another one to add to the list. People who smoke are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to suffer from back pain than non-smokers. This is one aspect that spine researchers have studied and they have concluded that smoking decreases the supply of blood to the back. This can affect the elasticity of the discs and trigger disc degeneration.
One study even indicates that those who smoke are more prone to contracting back pain from lifting injuries than people who don’t smoke. It is thought that smoking causes malnutrition of tissues in and around the spine, making these tissues unable to respond adequately to mechanical stresses like lifting.
A study done at Johns Hopkins concluded that lower back pain and degenerative issues with the lower spine are closely associated with smoking and hypertension, which can be caused by smoking.
Many back surgeons will not perform spine surgery until a patient quits smoking. Smoking can cause bone grafts to be unsuccessful. These surgeons recommend that patients quit smoking at least 6 weeks before they will perform surgery.
Stress and Depression
For someone who has been injured on the job, how well that person likes his job and how much stress and anxiety the job causes can determine how motivated the injured employee is to get back to work. A consequence of this stress and anxiety can lead to another very real side effect of the pain associated with a back injury, and that is depression.
Emotional and psychological side effects like stress, anxiety, and full-blown depression can cause the pain to become worse. The hormones that the body releases under these circumstances can actually increase the pain signals that are sent to the brain. The more pain, the more tension there is in the muscles, causing even more pain. A vicious circle of develops.
Depression brought on by pain is best treated with the help of a psychologist who can help the patient stop this self-destructive pattern. One thing they quite often encourage is finding activities that will take the patient’s mind off of the pain. There are even therapists that treat nothing but patients who suffer from chronic pain. This type of therapist can figure out how much of the pain is due to psychological versus behavioural influences. This helps to determine the right treatment for the pain.
Body Size, Breast Size, and Pregnancy
Being overweight or unusually tall, having large breasts, and pregnancy are things that can all cause back pain.
Someone whose lifestyle includes overeating and not exercising can lead to obesity. Most spine care professionals believe that obesity is one of the biggest factors in back pain. Most of these back doctors prescribed weight loss as the treatment for overweight people with back pain. It can lead to degenerative disc disease, stenosis, and many other specific back problems. See the chapter called What Causes Back Neck and Pain for more information on the things that cause back pain.
Pregnancy is another thing that can cause back pain and not just because of the additional weight that the woman is carrying. While pregnant, women’s bodies produce a hormone that is meant to soften the ligaments in the lower back as well as the pelvis. This facilitates the birthing process but it also put extra strain on the spine and the muscles around it.
Women with very large breasts have been known to suffer from upper back pain because of the extra strain on the muscles and ligaments in that part of the back. This extra weight can result in poor posture and in some cases even cause spinal deformities. More and more women like this are having breast reduction surgery to relieve the upper back pain.
Posture and Ergonomic Issues
Poor posture, whether you are sitting, standing, or lying down can put you at risk for back injuries and pain. If the spine is not lined up properly, the muscles, ligaments, and facet joints (see the Chapter called Understanding How Your Spine Works ) are all put under extra stress. The most common cause of back pain related to bad posture is muscle strain. But poor posture can also put undue strain on the discs. The stronger the muscles are in your back, the better your posture will be. When muscles are weak, it is difficult for them to support the spine.
So what is proper posture? When standing, the middle of the head, the shoulders, the middle of the body, the knees, and the feet should line up vertically. Surprisingly, sitting at a ninety-degree angle is not correct. It is better to sit with your bottom forward somewhat in the chair. See the chapter on Sleeping without strain for the proper reclining postures.
Ergonomics refers to fitting the task to the person, not fitting person to the task. The task can be anything from driving and sitting at a desk typing to construction work or working in the yard. Ergonomics is based on using the right tools, posture, and equipment to enhance performance.
When consistently using the wrong tools, sitting in the wrong chair, using the wrong posture effort is wasted, fatigue can set in, and you are at risk for pain, especially in the back.
The Right Way and the Wrong Way to Lift Heavy Objects
Everyone should understand the proper way to lift heavy objects off the ground so as to not cause a back injury. You don’t have to be in a profession that involves a lot of lifting to need this knowledge. Without it you could hurt your pack picking up any moderately heavy object. Even lifting something with your body just slight twisted or bent can cause an injury.
1. Move in close to the base of the object you want to lift with your feet pointed straight at the object. The closer the better. This puts the least strain on the spine.
2. While facing the object, bend your knees and squat down over the object. This allows your back to get help lifting from the strength of you both your legs and arms.
3. Tilt the object towards you onto its edge.
4. While still squatting, grab the object and slowly stand up, using your legs muscles to push up.
Never lift anything while bent over the object with your legs straight. This makes the spine act like a crane and is perfect way to put extra strain on it.
Corsets and Back Belts
More and more people who do a lot of heavy lifting are wearing 8-inch wide belts around their wastes that cross their backs. The purpose of these belts is not support the back but to add to the intra-abdominal pressure used when lifting. This helps them lift more weight for a longer time without putting as much strain on the back.
There are those that don’t believe that this concept really has any effect on reducing the strain of lifting. But everyone agrees that these belts tend to remind those who wear them to be aware of their backs and the risk of injury when they lift.
Rotational sports are any that involve either throwing or hitting motions. In throwing sports during the wind up, the upper body twists around the back side of the hip. The same is true in the back swing in a hitting sport. If the hip muscles are not strong this can put a lot of torque on the lower back as well. Approximately 36 percent of professional golfers suffer from some lower back pain. By the strengthening the muscles in the hips you can keep the strain off the lower back.
High Impact Sports
High impact sports like running and basketball are often considered a good way to make the bones stronger, especially as we age. But for someone who runs with the wrong posture, these types of sports can cause lower back pain. This usually happens when someone runs with torso completely upright by overarching his or her spine. Keeping the spine more neutral can help avoid lower back pain.
Sleeping without Strain
The best way to give the back relief from carrying our body weight all day is to let it rest properly at night. The two best ways to do that are:
1. Sleep in the best positions to let your back muscles rest. One of these positions is lying on your back. But it is important to put a pillow under your knees. You can also sleep on your side with a pillow placed between your knees. Using the pillow in both of these positions keeps the spine aligned properly. Sleeping on the stomach is the worst position because it forces the back to arch and your head to twist to the side.
2. The proper bed for your back is a must. A mattress that is too soft can make your spine curve and lead to back problems because the muscles in your back are have to keep supporting your spine, even while you sleep. A mattress that is too hard won’t conform to your body’s natural curves. This makes the spine have to curve to conform to the bed.
Picking the Right Pillow
One of the most common ways to get neck pain is when the neck is bent or twisted too far and too long in one direction. Many people wake up with a painful neck and this usually means that the pillow is not supporting their head and neck properly. There should always be a slight curve in the neck.
Using the right pillow can really improve your sleep as well as completely prevent or reduce pain. When sleeping on your side, your pillow should just fill the area between your ear and your mattress. Your head should not tilt. While on your back, the pillow should keep your head from tilting either backward or forward.
How to Lower Your Risk of Back and Neck Pain
There are a lot of ways to lower your risk of back and neck pain. Four of the best ways are:
1. Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is one of the biggest causes of back pain because of all the extra weight that is put on the spine.
2. Do regular back stretches and exercises like those explained in Exercises to Relieve Back and Neck Pain. These exercises are good for prevention as well as relief of pain.
3. Learn how to use the right posture while standing, sitting, and lying down.
4. Learn the proper way to lift. Anyone is subject to a back injury when lifting, not just those whose jobs require it.