Gone are the days when backache was a problem that came with old age. Today, even people in their twenties suffer from pesky back troubles. Various factors come into play that aggravates back pain, some are habits so innocuous you don’t even realise they’re causing damage. However, with awareness and simple measures to consciously avoid these habits, you can keep your back healthy.
You’re married to the desk
Studies suggest that sitting puts 40% more strain on your spine than standing. Considering you spend close to ten hours chained to desk with little to no physical movement, imagine just what your back might be going through on a daily basis. Add to that, caught in the middle of an ever-extending to-do list and crushing deadlines, the correct sitting posture is the least of your priorities. All of this only leads to weakening of back muscles, loss of lubrication in the joints and rapid deterioration.
What can you do about it: Adjust your chair so that you are invariably sitting in the right posture throughout the day. Make sure you’re sitting at an angle of 135 degrees. Lean back and relax your shoulders every now and then. When it comes to office chairs, look for chairs that offer lumbar support. Feel free to use a pillow to add the missing support. Your computer should be at eye level and your head should be straight.
When you’re not at the desk, you’re on the couch
Ah, the curse of a sedentary lifestyle! By the time you reach home from work you’re too tired to move about, so the first thing you do is plonk on the couch and binge on the telly. People think that the only way to fix an aching back is to not move it at all. However, lack of any activity only aggravates the back and delays any possibility of healing.
What can you do about it: Surprise, surprise! Exercise is one of the most effective ways to keep your back healthy. Walk for at least 30 minutes every day. Make time for some yoga. You’ll be surprised how these simple bodily movements work wonders in easing the strain off your back.
When you finally exercise, you do it wrong
Whether you’re spending all your time behind a desk or are sweating it out at the gym, posture is everything, folks! You’ll often hear people complain that brisk walking has only further aggravated their lower back and joint pain. Well, blame it on the posture and lack of stretching.
What can you do about it: Start every exercise, no matter how basic, with about 10 minutes of stretching first. Stretching prepares your body for what’s to come as well as loosens up those rusty joints and warms up the muscles. When you’re walking or jogging, remember to keep your back straight, shoulders and butt outwards. Take short strides. And maintain your breathing rhythm. Lower back pain is very common and can be the result of a variety of causes, an effective piriformis stretch can restore muscle function and relieve pain.
When you finally exercise right, you overdo it
You’ve found your workout groove, you’re enjoying your time at the gym, your motivation is at peak … you’re unstoppable, literally! And that is a problem you don’t see yet. Too much of sit-ups and crunches actually damage your back instead of making it better. Excessive compression leads to curving of the spinal cord, leading to some serious damage.
What can you do about it: Don’t lose heart yet. You don’t have to ditch the ab workouts or the weightlifting. Just find your limit and try not to push it altogether in one go. Take it slow and be a stickler for perfect form. Include workouts that strictly focus on strengthening your back and the muscles that support your back.
Watch your bag
The most overlooked yet common cause of backaches is that bag you lug around. Some people are notorious for packing their bags as if they’re going to be stranded on an island. A heavy bag causes shoulder imbalance, which in turns affects your spine. Imagine trudging with an overloaded bag every day. Your entire back is being put through strain.
What can you do about it: First things first, empty your bag and do some serious thinking about what goes into it. Take only what you need. When it comes to a bag for everyday use, choose function over style – avoid bags that come with excessive embellishments and chains. If you have to carry more weight than usual, opt for a backpack over a sling or messenger back, so that the weight is evenly distributed. Keep the heaviest objects in the space closest to your back. Adjust your bag such that it’s equally balanced on both shoulders and fits snugly against your back. If you have to carry a one-shoulder bag, make sure you keep alternating between the shoulders.
A bad mattress is another one of those sneaky villains that you can never figure is messing with your back until it’s too late. It doesn’t even occur to most of us to replace the mattress. Forget to replace the mattress, most of us don’t even put enough thought into buying the right mattress, to begin with! The result of sleeping on a lumpy mattress, or one that’s not either too soft or too firm? You wake up almost every day with a throbbing back. Your shoulders feel sore. You feel like you just got out of a brawl.
What can you do about it: If your mattress has been around for more than a decade, it’s time to bid farewell. Ideally, mattresses need to be replaced every 5 to 7 years. Take your time out to find a mattress that feels just perfect – not too soft, not too hard, but offering just the right amount of support and comfort. Think of a good mattress and a pillow as an investment. It’s good for your sleep and great for your body!
High heels are bringing you down
Flat shoes bring no respite either. Both ends of the shoe spectrum result in foot instability, which in turn affects your posture, which in turn affects your back. High heels are notorious for pushing your back muscles into overdrive. Sandals and flat shoes fail to hold your foot in one place, making it move from side to side and leading to uneven weight distribution, which – you guessed it – hurts the back muscles.
What can you do about it: I know you love your shoes entirely too much to let them go – what’s a little backache, right? Wrong. But, don’t hang your heels yet. Just don’t walk a lot in them. If you like wearing high heels at work, make sure you take them off when you’re sitting at your desk. Keep a spare pair of comfortable shoes for you to walk around in. Cushion your heels with soft inserts. Try not wear heels every single day; alternate between comfortable, flexible shoes and your favourite heels every now and then.
Stress is the word
The harmful effects of stress go way beyond the storm raging inside your head. Chronic stress is proven to directly trigger backaches. Moreover, when you’re stressed you don’t even realise that your muscles are tensed, your breathing is erratic and your posture is aggravating your backache.
What can you do about it: Just being cognizant of your own stress levels can work wonders in providing immediate relief. Even in the middle of a maddeningly busy day, take time to let out that breath you didn’t realize you’ve been holding. Relax your shoulders. Lean back in your chair and take deep breaths. Even a minute of this works! Find simple ways to relax – a quick text or phone call to a loved one, a funny video, a short walk outdoors, listening to your favourite song.
You’re not eating right
The bane of everyone’s existence! You’ll say you don’t have the time to pack a healthy lunch to keep you on track the whole day. You’ll say you have too weak a resolve. You’ll say you have only one life and you don’t want to let it go by missing out on your favourite foods. The problem begins when everything you eat is basically unhealthy. Throw lack of physical activity into the mix, and life is one big party, isn’t it? This is how you gain weight. Excessive weight gain and fat accumulation in and around the belly area puts pressure on your back. Unhealthy weight gain is directly connected to backache, and can have some serious repercussions if ignored.
What can you do about it: You don’t have to give up on all your favourite junk foods at once! But don’t turn a blind eye to greens and protein & fiber rich foods either. Just cut down on processed foods and artificial sugars, and you’ll feel the difference yourself! Hydrate regularly, avoid stress eating, and do not skip your meals!
A little changes go a long way in keep your back in good shape. Make stretching exercises, proper diet and ergonomic furniture a regular feature in your life. If your backache has been getting too much, just go see a chiropractor already!