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Eight of 10 Americans will suffer a back injury sometime during their lives.
Chances are, you can beat those odds - if you take steps to strengthen and protect your back.
The best time to start is now.
Back problems often begin long before the pain shows up. An aching or injured back is usually the result
of a history of back abuse - including poor posture, improper lifting techniques, tension, poor
nutrition, and lack of exercise.
Taking steps to protect your back is your best insurance against back pain or injury. You are the only one who
can do it, and now is the time.
Watch those curves!
|Cervical spine. These seven bones, or vertebrae, make it possible for you to move your head and neck through
a wide range fo motions. In "medical language," these bones are referred to as C1 through C7.|
Thoracic spine. Also called the dorsal spine, the thoracic curve consists of 12 vertebrae (T1 through T12), which
provide support for the ribs.
Lumbar spine. Five large vertebrae (L1 through L5) make up the lumbar curve, or lower back section, which carries most of the body's
weight. At the base of the spine are two more bones: the sacrum, which is connected to the lumbar region and pelvis, and the
coccyx, or "tailbone."
||The spine consists of 24 discs and vertebrae, supported by muscles and ligaments.
Each of these "parts" has an important job to do. The bones, or vertebrae, protect the spinal cord.
The discs act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae. And the muscles and ligaments, working together
with the discs, allow the spinal cord to stretch, curve and bend - while holding all the bones in place.
The normal spine is shapede like a long, drawn-ouit "S", formed by three natural curves of the back, known
as the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spines.
The safe lift
||Learning how to lift properly is one of the most important moves you can make towared maintaining a
healthy back. The first step toward proper lifting begins in your head. Think about how you will lift an object before attempting it.
If the load is too heavy, break it into sections, if possible. If not, enlist the help of others in lifting the object or
transferring it to a pushcart, handtruck, or forklift. And, when using a cart or handtruck, push - don't pull.
If you decide to lift the load yourself, remember to...
When unloading, use the lifting techniques in reverse. Set the load down smoothly, in a carefully chosen spot (so no one has to move it again!)
- Inspect the object. -- Check for sharp edges, grease or moisture. And be sure the pathway is clear of obstacles, debris, and spills.
- Position your feet firmly, about shoulder-width apart, to establish a stable base. Point toes out.
- Bend at the knees -- not at the waist. Keeping the back upright, shift your weight to the powerful muscles of your legs. (Remember to maintaithose three
natural curves of the spine!)
- Tighten stomach muscles. -- Keep the abdominal muscles tight, so they can better support the spine and offset the force of the load.
- Lift with the legs. -- Grasp the object firmly, then lift the legs. Your leg muscles are stronger than those in your back, and much better equipped to help with lifting.
- Keep the object close to your body.. -- The closer you hold the load, the less strain on your back.
- Keep the back upright. -- If you bend forward, you're adding the weight of the load -- so keep the spine straight. And don't twist or turn the back. Twisting only invites injury.
Daily care of your back
- Reduce Stress -- Stress is the culprit responsible for many physical disorders, including back pain. Your spine is very sensitive to muscle tension. If you're "up tight," your back
probably is, too. As stress builds up, it can cause the muscles of the back to tighten and contract, resulting in pain. Learn how to relax and unwind, and remember to take an occasional break
from your daily work routine.
- Exercise daily -- Backpain can often be traced to lack of exercise. A few simple daily exercises can help keep your back strong and flexible. Be sure to consult with your physician, however, before
beginning an exercise program. Exercise should be aimed at strengthening muscles in the back, the thighs, and especially the abdomen. Because tight, shortened muscles can increase your chances of back injury,
it's important to include stretching exercises in your daily routine. Stretching loosens the muscles, increases their flexibility, and makes motion easier. Also, remember to stretch as a "warm-up" before
- Eat Right and Stay Trim -- Don't carry arround a bundle of excess body weight. The farther the stomach protrudes, the more strain it puts on the back. Losing those extra pounds can go a long way toward
relieving your back of extra work. If you'r overweight, consult your physician for advice on a diet that will be safe and effective for you.
- Sitting -- Don't sit for too long. Get up and stretch occasionally, or take a little walk. Be sure the chair at your desk keeps your back straight and allows your knees to be positioned at the same level as your hips.
If your chair doesn't provide proper support, use a pillow or backrest.
- Standing -- Remember to maintain the three natual curves of the spine. If you must stand for a long period of time, stand with one foot elevated to a comfortable level (placed on a low stool, for example),
and switch to the other foot every half-hour or so.
- Sleeping -- Use a firm mattress (or firm waterbed). Sleep on your side with knees bent, or on your back with a pillow under your knees. And, when it's time to get up, do it this way: Roll to your side, facing the edge of the bed.
Slide your legs over the edge until your feet touch the floor. Raise yourself to a sitting position by lifting the upper part of your body. Push down on the bed with your hands, and straighten your arms. Lean forward...and then stand up.
- Driving -- Sit close to the steering wheel and keep your back straight. Adjust the seat so that it allows your knees to bend. Support the lower back with a cushion or rolled-up towel. Check your posture and "tension level" while
driving. On long trips, stop every couple of hours and get out of the car to stretch or walk. And don't dive into the car! Sit on the edge of the seat and slide over.
Remember, a back problem is rarely caused by a single incident. It's usually the result of a combination of stress, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, improper lifting, poor posture ...and one "wrong" move. The better you treat your back,
every day, the better it will treat you.
Here are a few general guidelines for proper nutrition:
Mind your posture! Whether you're sleeping, sitting, standing or driving, there's a right way to do it.
- Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your daily diet.
- Eat more poultry and fish, less meat.
- Cut down on foods containing salt, sugar or saturated fats.
- Reduce your consumption of foods high in cholesterol and fats, such as dairy products, fast foods, mayonnaise, and salad dressing.
- Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
More tips on back care...
- When two or more people are lifting a heavy object, choose one person to call the signals and direct the team. This will assure that everyone
lifts, walks, and lowers the object at the same time, without danger of back strain or sprain.
- Before lifting and carrying an object, think about it. Use your head -- to help your back. Anticipate problems, and clear the pathway before you begin.
Clean up any spills, and make sure the area is well lighted. Choose a clear route and flat surface, even if it means carrying the load a little further.
- When lifting from above shoulder height, first test the weight of the load by pushing up on it from below. Move as close to the object as possible, allowing
it to slide down next to your body. For very high lifts, stand on a sturdy ladder of platform - never on a box or a chair.
- Look for a better, smarter way to do the job. If you find yourself stooping and bending throughout the day, why not place the objects you need on a table or pallet?
Or, if you're frequently reaching up, reposition often-used items on a lower shelf or cabinet.