Some of the most common injuries we see occur in the low spine. There are five motion segments in the small area alone, which is responsible for bending and twisting, among other movements. Not only can the lower lumbar joints (L4 and 5 especially) be injured, say when you lift a heavy object, but they can also wear down over time as a natural consequence of repetitive movement.
So Much for the Why, Now the How!
Understanding that your low back is vulnerable is one thing; and why it can become a source of pain is also good. It is the preventive tips, though, where the real value lies. It’s in the habits you create where you mitigate your risk for low back injury, so let’s dive right in and see how you can do this!
- Develop a core. The back muscles and the vertebrae of the low spine are all directly linked to your core. Exercise is an important component to spine health in two ways. First, cardiovascular activity, even light walking, encourages blood flow, which nourishes the spine and keeps discs hydrated. Second, exercising core muscles makes the low back more resilient due to the improved support from the midsection. Exercise need not be overly strenuous. Just sit on an exercise ball for 20 minutes and your core will strengthen.
- Sit properly. When we sit, pressure can go in a lot of different directions. You may notice that your back tries to tell you when your posture is “off.” There is a natural curve to the low back, which can be supported by sitting in an ergonomic chair. Also, trade your seated position for a standing position every hour or so to keep low back muscles from tightening up.
- Learn to lift properly. Lifting objects that you have bend over to reach can be a fast-track to back injury. Experts recommend lowering your body by the knees rather than bending at the hips to pick up objects. And “heavy” doesn’t have to mean 50 pounds, or even 20. A light, 5-pound package is fully capable of throwing out the back.
-Ken Hsu, M.D.
(The opinions stated in this blog are those of the author Dr. Ken Hsu, and not necessarily those of the American College of Spine Surgery).