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DAILY HABITS FOR LOW BACK HEALTH - DAN PIEMONTESE, PTA
Low back pain and other related lumbar conditions are some of the most common issues that we treat as therapists. One of the most important aspects of treating these patients is educating them on small changes they can make in their day-to-day lives to help relieve some of this pain, and also to develop positive habits that can help them make long-term, positive changes. Here are a few basic things that can be very helpful for the patient with low back pain, or any other condition where improving spinal health is a concern:
Avoiding Static Standing and Sitting
Static standing and sitting (standing or sitting in one place without moving). Both standing and sitting in one place for too long can place a disproportionate amount of stress on the posterior portion of our spine, and ultimately on the posterior portion of the lumbar discs. The way to avoid placing these continued stresses on the spine is to avoid these static positions as much as possible. A general rule of thumb to follow is to not stand in one place for more than 10 minutes, and to not sit in one place for longer than 15 minutes. Becoming more conscious of avoiding these prolonged positions can go a long way in helping to improve posture and reducing undue stress on the spine.
“De-load the Spine for 20 Minutes a Day”
As noted before, prolonged sitting and standing place a great deal of stress, or load, on the spine. While we can do things to reduce this stress, we cannot completely avoid these stresses throughout our daily life. Fortunately, there are some easy techniques to use to help de-load the spine. Generally, anything we can do to put our spine into a horizontal position is helpful in relieving these stresses. The picture below demonstrates one way to do this. Find some floor space and lie flat on your back with your arms out to the side. Place your lower legs and calves on a chair, ottoman, or something else that allows your hips and knees to be at a 90-degree angle. This position eliminates the forces of gravity, taking the load off of your spine, while also relieving stress on the hamstrings, which are commonly tight in patients with low back issues.
Use a Lumbar Roll for Improving Sitting Posture
In recent years, we’ve seen a major increase in low back and other posture-related dysfunction due to an increase in sedentary office jobs, use of cell phones/tablets, and other technology that keeps us sitting in front of a screen for too many hours of the day. One thing that is simple but often under-appreciated and not utilized enough is a lumbar roll. A lumbar roll helps to maintain the normal curvature of the lumbar spine while sitting, which in turn helps to maintain the normal curvature of the entire spine. Pictured below is a woman sitting in a basic office chair using a lumbar roll. You can see how the roll helps to support her low back in the seated position. There are a number of different brands and types of lumbar rolls out there. In a pinch, you can also use two or three small towels rolled up tightly with some tape around them and this will serve the same purpose.
Avoid Excessive Bending, Lifting, Twisting Proper body mechanics are something that can be challenging to adopt and requires some practice, but the main things to keep in mind are to avoid frequent forward bending and/or twisting of the spine. Studies have shown that these positions place a great deal of stress on our lumbar discs. Combine these motions with any sort of lifting and the chance for damage is increased. It’s important to maintain a neutral spine when performing any task that requires you to bend forward.