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Back Injuries: How To Prevent And What To Do If You Get One

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“I tweaked my back or my back hurts,” most of us said it and experienced low back pain at one time or another in our lives’. September is National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month and no better time than now to talk about prevention and what to do if you do hurt your back.

The Bureau of Labor reports that 20% of all illnesses and injuries that occur in the workplace are related to the back. That’s over 1 million people a year. Pain can be debilitating and long-lasting which can affect your daily life and those around you. The three most common injuries to the spine are strains or injury to the muscles and tendons, sprains which are injuries to the ligaments of the back and herniations involving injury to the disc between the vertebra.

Now the question is how do you prevent a back injury?

Prevention of a back injury is simple. It involves remembering a few items in our everyday lives.

First, is to use proper mechanics when lifting anything no matter how big or small, or heavy or light it may be.

What is that you might say? Proper body mechanics when lifting anything is to stand with a wide base that is hip to shoulder-width apart. Then, bending at your knees (not at your waist) and keeping the object you are lifting as close to you as possible is important. Next, is to keep your abdomen tight. This is not holding your breath. We don’t want you to pass out now! Tightening your abdominals is pulling your belly button into your spine like trying to tighten your pants after Thanksgiving dinner. Next, is the lifting phase of the movement which involves using your legs not the muscles of your back. And finally maintaining an upright position and not letting your back move into an unnatural position. I’ve included a diagram to give you an idea- the left is improper mechanics, while the right is proper mechanics.

Second, be active every day.

The more active you are daily the better your physical fitness. The less likely you are to suffer an injury such as a back injury. Being active helps to increase one’s strength and flexibility. The Mayo Clinic recommends 75-150 minutes of cardiovascular activities weekly. This can be as simple as walking, taking an aerobics class or going for a run. The Mayo Clinic also recommends resistance training 2 days a week: this can include bodyweight exercises, weights or resistance bands/tubes.

Lastly, don’t sit for long periods at a time!

While sitting, in general, is not bad, sitting for long periods of time places increase pressure and strain on the low back. It is recommended that you should get up once every 60 minutes and walk around/stretch. This change of position allows for muscles to change positions and to not become stiff sitting in one position for too long.

Unfortunately, you have tried to prevent a back injury and still have ended up with one, what do you do?

First, do not lie down and do nothing. I cannot stress this enough while it may feel good to the back, in the long run, it will cause you more pain and disability.  Secondly, use ice or heat, this is a great way to help reduce pain and improve your symptoms. Finally, if after a few days your symptoms do not improve or you are feeling worse, come see your physical therapist at Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy.

Arizona is a direct access state, this means that you can go see a physical therapist without a physician’s referral (insurances may vary). We offer free Injury Assessments and will be able to help you begin your road to recovery. Schedule your appointment today.

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