The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 19, 2000

Bye to back-breaking ways
By Anup Deb Nath

IN our quest for fitness we often seem to feel that our body is invincible and can withstand all that we heap on it and more. The only time we realise that it is liable to get hurt if we ill-treat it is when we come down with a problem. Possibly the most ill-treated area of our body is the one that literally holds us together — the back.

Regular exercise helps to prevent back painIt is basically our spine that keeps us upright and allows us the forward and backward movement that we take for granted. The spine consists of 33 vertebrae. Each of these is separated from the other by a gelatinous disc that is flexible enough to act as a shock absorber for the body. A complex network of ligaments, muscles and tendons holds the spine together.

Nerve ends in the vertebrae gather and impart information throughout the body. Many people are prone to back problems. Most back problems occur in the lower back region also called the lumbar region and among the more common back problems are slipped discs, and muscle spasms.

Though there are many reasons for your normally healthy back to start giving you problems but most doctors feel that a weak set of abdominal muscles is often the most common reason for back pain. In holding a person upright the spine has to carry a lot of weight and the stomach muscles help out in carrying this load. When, for some reason, the abdominal muscles are unable to help in sharing the weight, then all the extra weight has to be carried by the back alone, and this is when you are most likely to suffer from a muscle spasm.

  Obesity is another reason for back problems. The excess weight alters your body’s natural shape and also effects your posture. These factors then combine to put extra pressure on your lumbar region. This can flatten out the discs, erode the facet joints and even entrap the nerves, which leads to a sore, painful back.

Stress is another common cause of back pain and so is leading a sedentary life. Osteoporosis, where the bone density decreases in women after the age of 50 or so, is another reason for back problems.

Back pain, regardless of it cause, needs time and rest to get better. Most doctors feel that if back pain is mechanical it settles down with rest within 2-4 weeks. Mechanical back pain, in simple words, is pain which gets worse with movement and does not persist throughout the night.

Some common reasons for back problems and how to solve them are listed below:

Diet: As you grow older not only does your body need less calories than it did earlier, but the rate at which you can burn calories also slows down. Hence, in effect, you would be overeating if you continue to eat like you did when you were younger. The more overweight you are the higher are the chances of your getting a bad back.

Exercise: The best way to ensure that your back stays healthy is to ensure that you exercise every day. Swimming, cycling and other such exercises combined with 15 minutes of callisthenics can keep your back healthy. However you should be careful while doing excercises such as jogging, tennis, and bowling as they can be hazardous to the back if not done properly.

Sitting: Most people are surprised when they find out that sitting actually puts more stress on you back than standing does. The reason for this is that while standing the weight is evenly distributed along the entire spinal column whereas while sitting the maximum pressure is exerted on the five vertebrae in the lumbar region. Try to use chairs with firm back supports and footstools. Sitting with your thighs raised slightly above your hips is one way of taking the pressure off your back. Aviod sitting for long stretches of time.

Sleeping: Try to sleep on a firm mattress and avoid sleeping on your stomach. Sleeping on your side or your back is fine and does not put pressure on the spine.

Posture: Standing correctly matters more than looking good, it also makes you feel good. The correct posture can the ease pressure on your back. A stiff, military-style posture is also not considered good for your back .

Lifting: You may injure your back while lifting something heavy. Never bend down at the waist to pick up anything. It is better to squat and then pick up the object. This way the pressure shifts from the lumber region to the legs.

Shoes: High-heeled shoes are another cause of back pain. Such shoes put pressure on the spine, straining the muscles and ligaments and effecting the discs.

We can prevent back pain if we learn to look after our backs. A few simple considerations can keep our backs healthy and pain-free.

This feature was published on March 12, 2000