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Tips to help prevent mechanical low back pain

There are many different causes of low back pain but one of the most common is known as mechanical low back pain. This simply means that there is an issue with the spine, intervertebral discs or surrounding soft tissues.

Acute back pain often resolves itself within 6 weeks but sometimes it can become a more chronic problem. Taking care of your back, can help to reduce the chances of getting low back pain or reduce the risk of recurrence.

The following advice will help you take care of your back.

Exercise: The spine is surrounded by a corset of muscles referred to as ‘the core’. These muscles help to stabilise the spine and maintain the correct position of the joints. If the core is not strong enough it can also cause problems in other joints. Completing regular exercise particularly Yoga, Pilates or swimming helps to improve core strength. If you start a new exercise such as running or cycling it is also important to have a strong core to prevent injury.

Posture: Poor posture, such as slouching, puts extra pressure on joints, ligaments and muscles. Over time, this can cause pain to develop in those structures. Try to maintain a good posture when standing and sitting to help prevent low back pain. Aim to keep your shoulders in a straight line over your hips and your ears directly over your shoulders.

Work setup: The importance of maintaining a good posture is highlighted above. When we are working, particularly when desk based, we spend many hours at a time in the same position. Ensure your desk area is set up correctly to avoid extra strain on joints and soft tissue. When using a computer ensure you are looking straight ahead and that your eyes are at the level of the top ¼ of the screen. Raise up or lower your screen accordingly. If you are using a laptop you will then need a separate keyboard and mouse.

Ensure you are sitting on an office chair that is adjustable and provides support to your lower back. The chair needs to be high enough that your arms sit comfortably at 90 degrees on the desk. You then may require a foot stool so your knees are just below hip height. This keeps the spine in an optimal position. Try to get up every 20-30 mins to stretch or go for a walk around the office.

Manual handling: If you have a physical job or are doing things at home that require lifting ensure that you use correct manual handling techniques. If you have equipment designed to do the task, ensure that you are using it.

When lifting, test the weight of the object and if it is too heavy, ask someone to help or reduce the weight (e.g. divide up the shopping bags so there is less in each). Ensure the route and final position is clear and only move heavy objects if it is necessary to do so.

When lifting, keep your back straight with your core engaged, bending your knees and using your legs to create the power to lift. If you bend over and use your back to lift you are increasing the risk of causing damage to the spine.

Looking after your back is important to prevent injury and prevention is always better than cure.