Give your back the attention it deserves. No matter how health conscious you are, you probably don’t think about your spine health on a daily basis. But the truth is, your back is the main support system for your body. It allows you to sit, stand, turn, bend and bear weight. If you injure your back, the results can range from mild pain to severe debilitation. Something this critical to your overall health and well being deserves a little attention. An ounce (or 2) of prevention. The good news is you can take action to help maintain a healthy spine and back. According to OAM Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon Kenneth M. Kozlow, MD, here are some of the best ways to keep your back and spine healthy and avoid back injury:

  1. 1.Keep your weight down. “The more weight you carry, especially in the belly, the more stress and force you add to the spine,” explains Dr. Kozlow. If you have achiness in your spine and back and you’re overweight, losing weight may help alleviate some of the pain.
  2. Maintain good core strength. This means strengthening abdominal and back muscles. “A strong core helps support you and take some of the load off the actual physical structure of the spine,” says Dr. Kozlow.
  3. Use proper lifting techniques. The basic rules are a) lift with your legs, not your back; b) hold items you are lifting close to your body; c) don’t twist while lifting; and d) don’t try to lift things that are too heavy. Dr. Kozlow covers each of these tips in more detail in his December 30 blog, Four Tips for Healthy Lifting.
  4. Strengthen hips and legs through daily exercise. This enables you to use your hips and legs more effectively while lifting.
  5. Focus on isometric exercises. When you develop your toning and strengthening routine, you don’t need to incorporate heavy weight lifting. “For general maintenance, I like to focus on what we call isometric exercises,” says Dr. Kozlow. “Where, instead of using weights, you’re doing things like sit ups, pelvic tilts and other exercises that still stress and strengthen the abdominal muscles, but don’t add the stress on the back and spine that can come with weights and machines.”
  6. Stretch. “Stretching is often overlooked when it comes to back health,” says Dr. Kozlow. Keeping your hamstrings, quadriceps and hips limber will improve overall body mechanics and contribute to a healthy back.
  7. Quit smoking. According to Dr. Kozlow, “Smoking decreases the oxygen available in your blood and can actually accelerate disc degeneration.”

Back to work. While injuries can happen anywhere, our work habits and tasks are frequent contributors to back and spine injury and pain. If you have a physical job that requires regular lifting, be sure to check out the lifting tips in our December 30 blog. If you have a desk job, sitting for long periods can put you at risk for back pain. OAM spine specialist Scott S. Russo, MD discusses ways office workers can maintain spine health in What’s Good for the Body is Good for the Spine. Not if, but when. “It’s important to realize that the vast majority of us, at some point in our life, will experience some sort of low back pain,” says Dr. Kozlow. “For most people, the pain will improve with a short course of treatment.” If you do injure your back, Dr. Kozlow has this advice: “The first thing to do is rest for a short period. Anti-inflammatories, heat and ice can help, too.” If the pain persists for several days, travels down the leg, or is severe enough to restrict normal activities, or if you experience changes in bowel or bladder function, you should seek medical attention. Recovery time and treatments vary, depending on the nature and severity of the injury. But the key steps to prevent injury and maintain back health are clear: maintain a healthy weight, strengthen your core and legs, use proper lifting techniques, stretch, and if you smoke, quit.