A healthy back can help carry you through your busy day — and keeping it healthy depends on what you do every day. That's important to remember because, according to the Canadian Chiropractic Association, a full 80% of Canadians will suffer some form of back pain in their lifetime.
Rather than risk being part of that group, follow these simple tips and look forward to maintaining good back health.
Try to maintain good posture throughout the day. Here’s how:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Your head, shoulders, hips and ankles stack up straight above each other. Your shoulders are back, neck long, chest raised and your abs and backside are pulled in. Use a full-length mirror to check this alignment from the front and side.
- Avoid activities that could throw your alignment out of whack. Cradling the phone with your neck and carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder are definite no-nos. Instead, switch to a messenger-style or cross-body bag with a padded strap to help even out the weight.
With the same alignment, sit with your lower back against the back of your chair or support cushion/roll (if you’re using one). With your shoulders back, keep your neck and back muscles relaxed. Your feet should be flat on the floor (or foot rest) with your knees and hips bent at a 90-degree angle.
You need a strong front to have a strong back. In fact, it’s important to keep your core (all the muscles in your trunk) strong because it will help protect your back and keep it healthy. Here are a few exercises you can try:
- Lie on your back with your hands under the small of your back. Engage your abs while you raise one leg with your knee bent at 90 degrees so that your lower leg is parallel to the floor; the other leg stays flat. Lower leg and repeat 4-7 times and then switch legs.
- To help strengthen your abs and buttocks, lie on your back, knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Arms at your side. Keep your back straight (no arching) as you raise your hips off the floor towards the ceiling. Your knees, hips and shoulders should be in a straight line. Squeeze your buttocks and keep your abs strong. Hold for as long as you can and repeat 5-8 times.
To help keep it healthy, stretch your spine throughout the day and before and after exercising or playing sports. For example:
- Stretch your legs and back every hour (at least) when sitting or standing for long periods of time. A quick way to stretch is to stand up, raise your arms above your head and reach for the sky.
- Sit up straight, lift one knee up and grasp it with your hands. Then curl your back slowly downward so that your nose approaches your knee. Hold so that you feel the stretch in your back. Do one side 3-5 times and then repeat with the other knee.
Being flexible and having good range of motion throughout your body can help reduce your chances of injuring your back and help keep it healthy. Try the following to help increase your flexibility and relieve tense muscles:
- Tai chi
The wrong shoes may lead to problems with your feet, knees, hips and spine. The next time you’re shoe shopping:
- Have both feet measured properly. Do this in the afternoon or evening because your feet tend to swell as the day goes on. And don't be surprised if one foot is larger than the other; that's perfectly normal!
- Forget the number. Different makes and styles fit differently so try on a few sizes to see which one is the most comfortable — even if you have to go up a size or two.
- Support your feet and back. In general, flat shoes that offer good support should be your first choice.
- Keep heels less than two inches. You'll get the look for a heel but can still maintain good posture and stability. And try not to wear them for long periods of time; for example, keep your heels at the office and wear running shoes when commuting.
- Opt for arch support — either built into the shoe or with a supportive insert you slide in yourself.
- Pass on breaking-in models. It's best to buy shoes that are comfortable from the get-go and don't require you to break them in.
Before you lift, consider the following back-health tips:
- Think slow, steady and smooth. Jerky, jarring or hurried movements can put a strain on your back. Also avoid twisting while holding a heavy object.
- Face the weight. When you’re lifting or carrying an object, you should be facing it.
- Use your legs. To lift an object, bend your knees — not your back — and pick it up. Keep your back straight at all times.
- Position the object correctly. To help reduce the strain on your back, keep what you're lifting close to your body and between your waist and shoulders as you move it.
- Prepare and take breaks. If you're doing a lot of heavy lifting (like during a move), stretch before you start and take breaks often.
Depending on where you live and the time of year, shovelling snow can become a daily chore — at least, for a little while. Here's how to do it with your healthy back in mind:
- Start with the right tools. A lightweight shovel with a plastic blade and ergonomic handle will help take the pressure off your back.
- Don't wait if you don't have to. New snow is lighter than packed or partially melted snow.
- Push the snow — rather than lift it, if possible.
- If lifting is a must, remember to:
- Keep your feet hip width apart.
- Bend from your knees, not from your back.
- Keep your shovel close to your body.
- Keep your abs strong and avoid twisting when lifting snow.
- Walk to dump the snow rather than throwing it.
- Don't overdo it. Take frequent breaks and stop if you have to.
Gardening is a rewarding pastime and good exercise. Unfortunately, it can also put a strain on your muscles and joints — including your back. Here are some ways to prevent aches and pains in the garden:
- Change tasks and positions often. Alternate tasks so that you're not standing, kneeling or crouching for long stretches of time. If that's not an option, take regular breaks. And rather than strain your dominant side, try switching hands to dig or adjust soil. When raking, keep one leg in front and one behind as you rake. Change hand and leg positions often to avoid straining your back.
- Use padding. When kneeling to plant or pull weeds, use kneepads or a pad that's large enough to support both your knees comfortably. And remember to keep your back straight.