The 3 Keys to Preventing Back Injuries

Back injuries are among the most common injuries. Here are some keys to preventing them.

One False Move

The back is involved in almost every move you make, and it only takes one false move to trigger an injury. For example:

  • Strains can be triggered by overstretching, slouching, and improper lifting. The strain problem is compounded if you are carrying excess body weight-especially around the midsection.
  • Sprains often result from sudden movements or sudden twisting of the body. With a sprain, soft tissues in the back, such as ligaments and muscles, are wrenched or torn, causing swelling and pain.
  • Over flexion, or bending too far forward, is another common back problem that results in increased pressure on the cartilage of the spine. Damage to the cartilage, or "disks," can cause swelling and pain that can last a long time.
  • Overextension, or bending too far backward, also increases pressure on the spine, resulting in potential injury.

The most important thing you need to know about these injuries is that they're all preventable. To eliminate back injuries, make sure you understand the three components of back safety—posture, lifting, and fitness.

Key #1: Posture

Maintaining proper posture while working is the first lesson you need to learn about back safety and health.

When you stand, you should:

  • Keep your head vertical and facing the work.
  • Stand straight with ears, shoulders, and hips aligned.
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and weight in balance.

It also helps to elevate one foot on a footrest and switch feet from time to time. So, using a simple footrest can also help prevent back problems. If you have to stand for long periods of time, it's a good idea to use an anti-fatigue or padded mat to stand on, as well.

When you sit, you should:

  • Keep your head vertical and facing the work.
  • Sit straight by keeping ears, shoulders, and hips aligned.
  • Keep thighs parallel to the floor, with knees bent about 90 degrees.
  • Rest feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.

If you are sitting most of the day, you should have a comfortable, adjustable chair with a firm backrest. It's a good idea to have a lumbar support pillow if you need extra lower back support.

Key #2: Safe Lifting

Many back injuries can be traced to improper lifting and carrying. You should use good body mechanics every time you lift, carry, and unload objects.

When you lift, you should:

  • Face the load with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep heels down and turn feet slightly out.
  • Squat by bending at the hips and knees.
  • Use leg and stomach muscles to power the lift--not back muscles.
  • Maintain the back's natural curves as they lift by keeping their head up.

When you carry objects, you should:

  • Point your feet in the direction you move and walk at a slow, steady pace.
  • Take small steps and turn your body as a single unit to avoid twisting the upper body.
  • Hug the load.

When you set down a load, you should reverse the lifting process, making sure to bend your knees as you lower the load and let your leg and stomach muscles bear the weight.

Key #3: Fitness Facts about Fitness

The third key to back safety and health is fitness. People who are out-of-shape or overweight are more likely to have back injuries than those whose muscles are toned and whose backs don't have to support extra pounds. As little as 10 minutes a day of exercises like stomach crunches and knee bends, combined with another 15 or 20 minutes of walking or some other physical activity, can help to maintain a healthy weight and toned muscles.

Oh, My Aching Back!

If you do injure your back, you can minimize the damage and pain, and get back on your feet sooner by knowing how to treat back problems correctly.

Sudden, extreme pain needs medical treatment. If you are in a lot of pain, don't fool around. Try to avoid moving and call for medical help right away. Some back injuries can be serious.

For lesser injuries and everyday backaches, these remedies are recommended:

  • Cold packs can be applied for 15 to 20 minutes for the first 24 to 48 hours after a minor back injury.
  • Heating pads are recommended for symptoms after 48hours.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used for a few days to take care of the pain. But remember to read the label on the bottle and take only the recommended dosage.
  • Rest can help by giving the injured muscles and other tissues time to heal.

Five 'Musts' of Back Safety

  1. Keep your back strong and fit with a healthy lifestyle.
  2. Maintain good posture whether you're standing or sitting.
  3. Be aware of your back every time you move.
  4. Remember the common causes of back injuries, and avoid awkward movements that can cause back problems.
  5. Use good body mechanics when you lift.
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