Human spines aren’t perfect. In fact, most engineers agree that if they were tasked with building central support for an upright ambulator, the backbones we currently use wouldn’t be it. The problem arises from the fact that our spines too closely resemble those of the four-legged creatures from which we evolved, who have different weight distribution and balance needs than we do. As a result, more than 80 percent of adults have lower back pain — but that’s not necessarily the end of the story.
Though our backs aren’t ideal, there are ways we can treat them better to prevent pain. Here are a few major spine mistakes you (and everyone else) make every day, and what you should do instead.
The Way You Sleep
You’d think that sleep would be great on your back; after all, when your body is at rest, your back can relax and avoid damage. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true for most sleepers, who contort their spines into unhealthy positions and remain there for much of the night. Consider the following ways sleeping could be causing your back pain:
If you sleep on your side… You should keep a pillow under your head, under your waist, and between your knees. You should avoid tucking your knees up to your chest, which causes your spine to round. Side sleeping is the best for your back — but only if you do it properly.
If you sleep on your front… You are simply sleeping incorrectly, according to most sleep experts. This forces your neck out of alignment in a handful of ways, and it flattens the spine’s curve. You should try to use pillows to slowly turn your body into side sleeping.
If you sleep on your back… You should be doing so without a pillow under your head but with a pillow under your knees. In this position, a pillow under your head forces your neck up and out of alignment, and without one under your knees, your legs put weight and tension on your lower back.
A back pain treatment facility, like this Philly spine center, can identify if your sleeping position is affecting your back health and help you take steps to recover.
The Way You Sit
You already know that slouching at your desk is bad for your back; that’s why whenever you stand up you need to do the office-worker stretch: clutching your low back, bending backward and saying “ahh.” However, your back is affected by other sitting positions, such crossed legs, which stretches one side of the lower back while compressing the other. Ideally, you wouldn’t sit much at all, doing much of your work standing or squatting instead. However, if you must sit, maintain good posture with neutral curves in your back.
The Way You Eat
Your diet affects how your body functions — you should be able to intuit that by the hour-long bathroom sessions after Mexican food night. Certain foods cause inflammatory reactions in the body, which can result in excessive back pain if you already have trouble with your spine. You should pay attention to what you are eating, and when, to keep your back pain-free. A few good rules of thumb are to avoid spicy food, animal fats, alcohol, gluten, and processed food and to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.
The Way You Walk
In truth, it isn’t how you walk that’s the problem — it’s what you walk on. Shoes impact the alignment of your spine in a major way, so if you are in the habit of wearing healed, stiff or otherwise uncomfortable shoes, you could be doing damage to your back. You should opt for footwear that mimics being barefoot or at least have a heel lower than one inch.
The Way You Work out
If you are an avid exerciser, you might be putting a strain on your spine through the improper form. High-impact exercises like jumping and running as well as weight-bearing exercises like squats and deadlifts can degrade the tissues of the back instead of straitening them as you might hope. If you experience back pain most acutely after a workout, you might stay away from the gym for a few weeks to heal and then acquire the services of a trainer to teach you proper form.
If you are already experiencing back problems, you need to take action fast to prevent lasting damage to your spine. If you don’t take your back health seriously, you could be impaired for the rest of your life. Rest, ice and take other measures indicated by your back pain specialist to treat your back right.