It just might be the most common form of physical ailment we know: the dull ache or sharp stabs of back pain. Four out of five people experience back pain at some point in their lives, and it is the most common cause of missed work.
Ordinary events like playing sports, shoveling snow, and horsing around with the kids can cause short-term, or acute, back pain. At work, it might be heavy lifting or long periods of sitting at a computer. Work-related back injuries are the number one occupational hazard. After a while, most back pain goes away on its own. But if the pain is severe or lasts more than a few days, you should see your doctor. Your best bet for avoiding back pain are maintaining a healthy weight, stretching and strengthening your muscles, and using good body mechanics.
- When you need to lift something, use the correct technique (see sidebar).
- Maintain good posture; slouching puts more pressure on your lower back.
- Try not to sit for extended periods. If your work confines you to a desk, be sure to stand at least once an hour to walk and stretch.
- If you spend a lot of time on the computer, set up your workstation properly. This web site offers advice on the best way to sit at a computer.
- While driving, make sure your knees are slightly bent and your back is arched. If you drive long distances, be sure to stop regularly to stretch.
- In extreme cases of back pain, treatment may include bed rest, medication, or even surgery. But most cases can be resolved the old-fashioned way: take it easy for a few days, then slowly start stretching and exercising lightly. As the pain subsides, you can increase the intensity of your stretching and exercising.
To minimize back pain, focus on exercises that increase the strength and flexibility of the muscles in your back, stomach, hips, and thighs. For tips on stretching exercises, visit this web site from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
The site also includes a great deal of information about lower back pain.
A last piece of advice: Keep a positive attitude about your job and home life. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, studies show that people who are unhappy at work or home tend to have more back problems and take longer to recover than persons who have a positive attitude.