For 80% of Americans, low back pain will be a fact of life at one point or another. No matter the cause, how can you avoid pain and still get by day to day? Here’s the top ten tips we give our patients every day.
10) Get your kicks on Route 66: Long car trips (or any ride for that matter) are a massive challenge to anyone with low back pain. The trick is changing position frequently. If you have a chance, lay down in the passenger seat to give your back a break from the force gravity imposes in sitting. Other options: perform a pelvic tilt in sitting, rolling your pelvis forward and backward every 15 minutes. Take breaks out of the car, walking for 5-10 minutes every hour or every 1.5 hours minimum, depending on the severity of your back pain. Don’t forget to bring ice and/or utilize your heated seats for added comfort. Also remember that lumbar supports in cars are helpful, but most of us over-do it. A small, gentle support is usually enough for the long hall - more is not better for your back.
9) Go ahead, put your feet up, but not this way: Long sitting is sitting in a chair with both feet straight ahead of you, with your hips at a 90-degree angle. This position puts tremendous force on the low back and the sciatic nerve in particular, which may cause tingling, numbness, and cramping in the calf muscles and arches when irritated and over-stretched. Feel free to put your feet up, just make sure you lay back in your recliner at the same time to avoid the 90-degree hip angle.
8) Break out your dance shoes: Wear supportive footwear for prolonged standing activities in your home, not just for a walk around the neighborhood or for shopping trips (especially to the mall). Use shoes with a good arch support and cushioning to reduce the strain on your back. Orthotics and heel lifts also make great reasons to be sure to wear those tennis shoes for cookie baking at Christmas time, prepping for rummage sales, and all the other things big projects we take on in and outside of our homes.
7) Don’t be a slouch! Choose your sitting surface wisely. Avoid sink in furniture no matter how good it feels initially. If someone has to help you get out of a slouchy chair or couch, it should be avoided at all costs! The most comfortable seating surface is likely to be firm, such as a firm recliner or wooden chair with a 2 inch chair pad.
6) What’s your zone? Did you know there are 3 zones to the chair? The rear zone of the chair utilizes the back rest and is your best bet to sitting with great back support for the longest period of time. Inevitably you will want to change positions, and for this scoot to the very front of the chair so your pelvis is propped up naturally by the position of your pelvis. Due to a lack of back support, you will not last very long. Then switch back to the rear zone. Avoid the middle zone at all costs! You will tired quickly and then slouch to find the chair back, increasing your back pain within minutes.
5) Dream big - on a comfortable, supportive mattress! Most of us in the US prefer firm mattresses (no pillow top - this serves to decrease the firmness) when we have back pain. Make sure you replace your mattress in a timely manner (as early as 5 years but closer to 10 years on average), especially when you feel it has lost its firmness, is lumpy or uneven, or you roll into your spouse routinely. If you wake up every day with a back ache, definitely consider the age and shape of your mattress and whether it should be replaced. For more info on mattress selection, check out our tips for picking the perfect mattress.
4) Don’t be a statue! Change position frequently no matter if you are sitting, standing, or walking when you have acute back pain. Your muscles supporting your spine fatigue more quickly when you are experiencing low back pain, requiring these frequent posture changes to remain comfortable.
3) Pillow talk - Using a pillow between lengthwise from knees to ankles is the perfect position for the side sleeper to keep your spine in neutral (neutral spine equals happy spine). If you need to lay on your back, use two to three thick pillows under your knees to position your spine in neutral. Finally, if you are a stomach sleeper, pop a pillow under the stomach, and make sure your pillow for your neck is off to one side so you can breathe while you sleep without cranking your neck 90 degrees which could put a kink in your neck the next morning.
2) WITW (look it up). Even though texting appears to only affect the head, neck and shoulders, it really affects the mid back and low back as well. When your spine is in total flexion hammering out a juicy message, this position results in tons of posterior disc pressure and pressure on everything else in your low back (including nerve roots like your sciatic nerve). Text with great posture including a chin tuck (see sitting posture above) and keep it short.
1) Where’s your work station? Now is the time to upgrade your work and home computer work stations to the latest and greatest, as it really is a great advancement in technology to change positions between sitting and standing throughout the day easily. Now that there are lower cost versions available, this really has become a reality for many who sit all day in an office. How to use this new option? Aim to sit for 20 minutes, standing for 5-10 minutes if you are in acute low back pain. When your back pain is more minimal, your goal should be sitting for 40-45 minutes and standing for 10-15 minutes per hour, unless your back pain feels better in standing. You will fatigue early if you do not take frequent breaks out of either posture. Pop one foot up on a step stool or any raises surface of 3-6 inches off the floor when standing (and switch which leg is up) to improve standing comfort and endurance.