You are only as young as your spine

Remember when mom used to tell you not to slouch? She knew what she was talking about. Back problems can affect all areas of your life, especially your ability to care for your family. Here are 10 helpful tips to keep your back strong and healthy.

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  • Don’t slouch!

  • Stand up!

  • Sit tall!

  • How many times have you heard these phrases? It wasn’t until I suffered from a debilitating back injury that I took these sayings seriously. Now I work to keep my back strong so I don’t get injured again. There are several things you can do to take care of your back, starting at any age.

  • 1. Sit up straight

  • It’s true, good posture will help your back stay strong. Observe small children sitting on the floor. They sit very straight. It will take a conscious effort to improve poor posture, so make it a matter of thought. You may find yourself slouching after a few minutes, but your strength will increase as you practice.

  • 2. Stand tall and walk correctly

  • When I went to the physical therapist for my back strain, he informed me I walked incorrectly. I was surprised, because I thought walking was a thoughtless process. His tips made my walking mechanics more efficient and my overall posture better. You should stand with your weight evenly balanced on your feet, and your head, shoulders, hips, and knees aligned. Use a friend or a mirror to check your posture.

  • 3. Stay flexible

  • Keeping your muscles and joints stiff is a sure way to exacerbate a problem. Learn simple back stretches to maintain or gain flexibility. If you work at a desk or drive long hours, take time to stop and walk around and stretch every hour or two.

  • 4. Maintain a healthy weight

  • Carrying extra weight will cause problems in many joints, including those in your back. If you carry weight in your stomach, the excess weight will cause your lower back to strain, much like what happens to a pregnant woman. Losing weight and keeping it off will help alleviate lower back pain.

  • 5. Be active

  • After I hurt my back, I spent many days walking around gingerly, avoiding movement and lying down for long periods of time. I later learned that was the wrong thing to do. An active lifestyle or exercise regimen that uses the whole body will keep your back strong. In particular, focus on lower back and abdominal exercises. If you do hurt your back, avoid vigorous activity, but keep moving.

  • 6. Sleep smart

  • A proper mattress and pillow is important to let your back rest each night. While lying on your side, the most recommended sleeping position, your vertebrae should be aligned from your neck to your hips. Your hips should be level. You may want to sleep with a pillow between your knees to help reduce stress on your pelvis.

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  • 7. Choose a good chair

  • If you work at a desk all day, your office chair is crucial to your back health. Choose one with good lumbar support, and one which allows your feet to rest on the ground evenly. If you have low back pain, consider putting a stool under your feet. This will allow your back to rest.

  • 8. Don’t ignore a problem

  • If you have persistent back pain, seek help from a physician, physical therapist, or chiropractor. Back problems can go away quickly, but can also linger, causing months or years of pain. Once I finally sought help, it took about four months of therapy to regain my strength and correct my body mechanics. Months later, I still have to be careful.

  • 9. Children and backpacks

  • Help you children have strong healthy backs by encouraging them to wear their backpacks properly — on both shoulders. They should also avoid carrying heavy packs for long periods of time.

  • 10. Lift properly

  • Most people know to “lift with your legs, not with your back.” In addition, you should lift heavy objects slowly, maintain good posture throughout the lift, and try to keep the object close to your body. Webmd.com offers a helpful diagram and description of proper lifting.

  • Life with chronic back pain is difficult. Treat your back with care. Having a strong back will make every part of your life easier. Are you sitting up straight?

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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