Back pain is one of the most common reasons why the over 50s seek medical advice. If you don’t want to be one of them, make some simple changes to your daily life to ensure you protect your back.
Strengthen your core
Your lower back supports your entire upper body. Core strength is all about keeping your abdominal muscles strong and toned so that your back is supported and the pressure on your lower back is reduced. Unfortunately, our core muscles are seldom used during everyday activities, so targeted exercising is best.
Low impact cardiovascular exercise such as walking, going up and down stairs, or even just sitting on an exercise ball for 30 minutes, should help.
Try this: Starting on your hands and knees, with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your hips in line with your knees, extend your right hand and arm in front while extending your left leg backwards. Your body should form a straight line from fingertips to toes. Hold for 3 seconds and return to neutral, then repeat on the other side. Do ‘The Bird-Dog’ five times on each side.
Stretch and strengthen your hips
Our hip muscles are equally important for preventing back problems. The gluteal muscles encompass those in the buttocks as well as those wrapped around the side of the hip – one works to extend the hip, the other to move the hips out to the side.
Try this: Lie on your back with your knees drawn up to your chest for 30 seconds to give your gluteal muscles a good stretch. Repeat this 3 times to keep your hips from getting too stiff and repeat the exercise as many times as you like.
To make your gluteal muscles stronger, stand up from a seated position without using your hands to help you get up. Do this 10 times at least 3 times a day to really feel the difference. You can also try a mini squat – start with a 20 degree squat to start with and build up over time to the full 90 degrees with your thighs parallel to the floor.
Learn to lift properly
Always lift with your legs, never with your back! Keeping your back straight, bend your hips and knees to lower yourself down to pick up an item. Tighten your abdominal muscles and push up with your legs to return to a standing position. The stronger and more flexible your hip muscles are, the easier it will be to lift things with your legs rather than relying on your back.
It is all too easy to twist the wrong way when you’re picking up something heavy – which can lead to back pain and muscle spasm. Make sure you use the correct body mechanics and get help if you can’t manage a heavy weight on your own.
- Don’t sit still for long periods
Newsflash: Sitting down for long periods of time is bad for your back! Not only does it put too much pressure on your intervertebral discs, it also relaxes your gluteal muscles too much. Luckily, as soon as you get up, your glutes, core and pelvic floor muscles are activated. Again.
If you have a desk job, take frequent little breaks from your sedentary position – stand up, stretch and take a few steps before you sit down again. Every hour, take a slightly longer break and make sure you get your body moving around.
Go for a daily walk
It has long been recognised that there are many health benefits from taking regular walks. Walking is also one of the best and safest exercises you can do for your back. It’s a great upright body position for reducing the pressure on your spine.
Walking helps to strengthen the muscles in your hips, torso, legs and feet. It stabilises your spine and conditions the muscles needed to keep the body upright. It facilitates a strong circulation, improves flexibility and posture. And if that wasn’t enough, regular walking will help you maintain a healthy weight too!
Stretch your hamstrings
Tight hamstrings at the back of your thighs can also lead to lower back pain. Regular stretching in this area can help reduce the pressure on your pelvis and provide relief in the lower back area.
Try this: Lie on your back with your buttocks resting against the wall and your legs fully extended upwards against the wall. Support your pelvis and lower back with a folded blanket if necessary. Relax in this position for up to 20 minutes. Straightening your legs in this way will gently stretch your hamstrings.
Make time for relaxation
Chronic stress has the effect of tightening and shortening your muscles, making it harder for them to support your back. Stress also increases your sensitivity to pain. That’s why it is so important to find time to relax, ideally every day, to bring your body back into balance.
Whether you prefer yoga or relaxation exercises, meditation or chanting, any method that will help you beat the stress cycle will help you to protect your back.
Spending way too long per day in a desk chair necessitated the need for greater back care, and here Mike James, a freelance blogger with Flexible Health has provided his tried and tested top tips.