Your body’s scaffold: why you can’t afford to neglect it

From the moment we wake up, our backs are getting a workout: holding us up while we drive to work, lean over a computer, lift, carry, climb, clean, operate machinery… and drive back home to hopefully kick a football with the kids and cook dinner, clean some more, then finally give our backs a break while we watch TV and head to bed.

But we often take all this for granted, and hardly think about how much we rely on our backs… unless something goes wrong. And for those of us who have experienced a back injury, we know the impact on our whole lives – career, finances, family and recreation – is enormous.

So who’s got your back? Well when it comes down to it, it’s up to you to make sure you look after your back while you work, play and enjoy family time… and transport yourselves safely to and from the places where you do those things.

How to keep your back on track!

Here are a few interesting facts and helpful tips to keep your back on track. Remember if you have back pain go and get it checked out by your doctor as soon as possible.

Did you know

  1. Back pain does not necessarily mean that you have a back injury.
  2. Most Tasmanians will have back pain at some time during their lives.
  3. Many different factors can work together to cause back pain.
  4. Common causes for the majority of back pain include:
    - Muscles, ligaments, and joints in the back not moving the way they should
    - Pushing, pulling, lifting, or carrying more weight than your body can handle
  5. Spasms caused by muscle tension can result in pain.
  6. Smokers are more likely to get back pain.

Some myths about backs

When it comes to back injuries, people tend to self-diagnose a great deal – and mostly incorrectly!

For example:

Myth: People think they have a ‘slipped disc’
Fact: Discs can bulge or herniate, but it is impossible for a disc to slip “out of place.”

Myth: Back pain is usually caused by a pinched nerve.
Fact: Pinched nerves are very uncommon.

Myth: Resting for long periods of time is the best treatment for back pain.
Fact: Bed rest for more than a day or two may be bad for your back. The best approach is ask your doctor about getting mobile as soon as possible (for example, going for an easy walk out in the fresh air).

Myth: Taking anti-inflammatory and pain relief medication will cure back pain.
Fact: Pain killers and muscle relaxants can often reduce the pain and discomfort to a degree where we think we are better than we are. This can cause us to move in ways that do not allow the injury to heal or can make it worse. Check with your doctor about your pain relief and ask them about your options.

The straight-up on good posture

You may or may not know your spine is one of the strongest parts of your body. The spine is at its strongest when it is working within the range of natural curves.

However, when you use you back such a way that forces it into a position outside this ideal curvature range, the back has to work harder to do the same job, increasing the likelihood of possible injury.

Poor posture also fatigues the muscles faster. The results of poor posture are incremental, and can build up over time, resulting in back pain that may result in long-term damage.

Certain back postures increase the likelihood of injury and should be avoided as they do not help maintain the natural curves of the spine:

Examples include:

  • Forward Bending
  • Twisting
  • Extreme Side Bending

The common culprits

  • Back pain is caused by many factors. When two or more risk factors are present at the same time, you are at a much higher risk of injury. The most common poor postures used when handling objects are: forward bending, twisting, and extreme side bending.


Take a load off: reducing the risks

  • When lifting loads, use a two-handed grip where practical and maintain a straight back with your head up.
  • When repetitively handling objects, turn your body by moving your feet and getting into a stable position.
  • When you need to do the same task for a long period of time, try to change your posture as often as possible.


The e-word: strengthening your scaffold

People who are physically fit and active generally have less back pain, they also recover quicker from back related injuries.

A strength program designed by a certified trainer is ideal – it’s important that you have good technique while performing strength work: just one session can provide you with a range of exercises. If that’s not an option, you can look at an affordable group circuit of strength class where a trainer is keeping an eye on everyone’s technique. Even regular walking can help: a little exercise every day will help you keep your back on track, not to mention the overall impacts on your health and wellbeing.

Here are some basic stretching exercises that can complement an exercise program and help keep your back on track. Remember you should only ever do what you feel comfortable with and consult with your doctor if are not sure about exercises that are you are capable of and are suited to your level of fitness:

If you have an existing back complaint you should never exercise in a manner that could cause further aggravation it. Ask your doctor about lower impact exercises like.

Helpful Hints to keep your back on track

  • Lifting:
    - Keep the objects you need to move as close as possible to your body
    - Balance the loads you need to carry between both hands
    - Minimize the distance you need to reach out when picking up an object
    - Think about how you are going to lift before you do it
    - Get help to lift awkwardly shaped or heavy objects
  • Stretch to keep your lower back and legs flexible.
  • Keep your abdominal muscles strong (keep a tight tummy as you lift).
  • Your back is designed to move. Don’t stay in a poor or awkward position for long periods if you are starting to feel uncomfortable. Listen to your body: if it’s telling you it’s time to change position, have a break!
  • Everyday, pay attention to your posture and keeping your natural back curves.
  • Wear comfortable and well-supported shoes.

Back yourself

You only have one back, so make sure you take care of it to ensure you live a long and active life. Back injuries can negatively affect every aspect of your life. Many back injuries can be long term and all too often permanent.

Take a few moments in each day to reflect on how you can look after your back. If you look after your body’s scaffolding, it will support you for a long time to come.

Note: The information provided in this post is general information and is not intended to replace consultation with your health professional. It is essential to seek professional advice if you have back pain. In particular, if those pains spread down your leg, especially below the knee, and are accompanied by weakness, tingling, or numbness.