October is Spine Health Month! Low back pain is very common and in order to keep a healthy spine and stay pain-free, please consider the following tips. If you are currently experiencing low back pain, please consider consulting a physical therapist or your medical doctor to create an individualized program for you:
1. “Sitting is the new smoking”: This is a statement that you may have heard used recently. Similar to smoking, sitting for long periods of time has adverse health effects. Of interest to the spine, sitting puts an increased demand on the low back and doing so for long periods of time can increase your chances of low back injury. Use a timer at work to help remind you to get up and walk around. Another popular correction is using a standing, or a sit to stand desk at work. Additionally, having an active lifestyle outside of work can also help minimize the occurrence of low back pain.
2. Pay attention to your posture: When sitting for long periods of time, be mindful of maintaining good alignment. Try not to slouch down in your chair. Here is a quick checklist to use when sitting at your desk to optimize your alignment.
- Take the support from the back of the chair. If you are unable to reach the back of the chair, consider the use of a lumbar roll or back support.
- Maintain the knees below hip height. If the chair allows, adjust the high of the seat. If not, consider the addition of a chair cushion.
- Rest your feet on the floor. If your feet tend to dangle from the chair, consider the use of a step or a book for under your feet.
3. Get up and move regularly: Sitting in one position for too long can overload your spine, which may eventually lead to pain. Use a timer at your desk and get up and move around every hour.
4. Don’t stay stooped: When doing activities that require you to stoop down, like lifting, gardening, cleaning or playing with children on the floor, periodically take a break to stand up and stretch.
5. Use good body mechanics: When lifting heavy objects, make sure you use proper body mechanics. Stand with your feet wide apart and lift the object close to your body. Keep your core engaged when lifting and use your legs to help you more than your trunk.
6. Perform a proper cool down: Don’t sit immediately after finishing a rigorous activity like doing heavy lifting or exercising. Let your body cool down and once you do sit down, remember to maintain good posture–no slouching.
7. Sleeping: Maintaining good alignment when you sleep is important to let your spine rest. Ideally, sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees or on your back. Try and avoid sleeping on your belly.
8. Stay Active! Keep moving and regularly work on core and hip strengthening exercises. Having strong muscles will help to support your lower back and trunk. If you are unsure of proper exercises to perform please consider consulting a physical therapist to assist in creating an individualized program for you.
Reviewed on August 7, 2018.
Dana Rose PT, DPT, OCS, SFM, is site manager of the Spine Therapy Center at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS).