A Healthy Back
Your back requires proper care to keep it working. If your back isn’t working right, you will suffer. An injured back affects your ability to move your neck, head, limbs, and your hips.
The muscles in your back are unlike many other muscles in your body – they are almost always in use.
- The muscles in your back hold your torso in an upright position throughout the day.
- The muscles in the back assist you every time you pick something up, whether it’s a pen or a concrete block.
- The muscles in the back support your posture while you sit in your chair, and the muscles in the back even work at night when you sleep.
Good Posture and Bad Posture
Your back is composed of three natural curves that form an S-shape:
- Cervical curve in the neck area
- Thoracic curve in the middle back area
- Lumbar curve in the lower back area
When you use good posture, your three natural curves are properly aligned – your ears, shoulders, and hips are in a straight line – supported by strong, flexible muscles. Without support from strong, flexible muscles, your back loses its three natural curves. Poor posture can lead to pain and serious injury. Good posture helps prevent back strain and pain.
Injuries to the back can be very debilitating, causing you a lot of pain, time away from work, and often requiring physical therapy or even surgery. Everyone whose job involves stressful lifting or awkward postures is at risk for a back injury.
Avoid lifting from the floor whenever possible. If you must lift from the floor, do not bend at the waist. By lifting with your large, strong leg muscles instead of the small muscles of the back, you can prevent back injuries and reduce low back pain.
Some Lifting Techniques:
- Get as close as possible to the object you are lifting, as if you are hugging the object. Having the object close to your body puts less force on your low back. Don’t bend over the object. Bend your knees, squatting in front of the object, keeping yourself in an upright position while squatting to pick it up.
- Lift the object slowly and carefully, using your leg and arm muscles to lift, not pulling with your back. Your legs are the strongest muscles in your body, so use them.
- Keep your head up and look straight ahead while making the lift.
- While lifting, keep the object as close to your body as possible.
- Keep abdominal (stomach) muscles tight while making the lift. Don’t hold your breath while tightening your stomach muscles.
- Turn with your feet, not your back. Your back isn’t built for twisting from side to side.
- Use the same techniques when you put the object down.
- If the object is too big or too heavy for you to lift using these techniques, use mechanical assistance or get someone else to help you.
When reaching for objects:
- Do not reach for an object unless you are sure you’re strong enough to lift it.
- Use a step ladder to reach objects that are above your shoulder height. Elevate yourself until the object is at least chest level, preferably waist height.
- Avoid awkward stretches while reaching. This will stress your back and could cause you to lose your balance.
- Don’t depend on structures to support you, for example, a shelf support, a storage rack, etc. These could easily give way if you pull or tug on them.
Back exercises also play an important role in keeping your back strong, healthy, and flexible. A properly exercised back is less likely to be injured. Your doctor can recommend the best exercises for you, taking into account your physical condition and the type of work you do.
There is a lot of controversy about using back belts to control low back injuries in workers who don’t have an existing injury. According to a report published by the National Safety Council, available scientific data does not completely support nor condemn the use of back belts to control low back injuries.
If you do use a back belt, be aware that you may experience a false sense of security by wearing the belt. You may be tempted to lift loads you wouldn’t otherwise lift. Remember, it’s your back doing the work, not the belt!
Always be alert for situations that could cause a back injury. Be kind to your back. Don’t take unnecessary chances. By following proper lifting and reaching techniques and exercising properly, you’ll help keep back problems behind you!
Correct posture, proper lifting, and a good exercise program are the best prevention for back and neck injuries.