As warm weather finally stretches across the country, outdoor physical activity enthusiasts of all ages will be swinging clubs and racquets, lacing up sneakers or walking shoes and brushing off gardening tools to make the most of the season.
If you’re returning to these activities after a long cold winter, or perhaps haven’t had the chance to enjoy the benefits of sunshine and higher temperatures lately, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) has issued some timely tips to help you take care of your back, ensure a healthy start to spring and reduce the risk of injury.
Back pain affects nearly 10 million Americans each year. Maintaining proper posture, balance, strength and flexibility can all help to increase core strength and, in turn, support the back.
NATA board member Kathy Dieringer, EdD, ATC, suggests starting with good health habits, including attention to diet and exercise, maintaining a good weight, and refraining from smoking. “All these elements can preserve a good back, keep our bones and bodies strong and help the body heal should injury occur,” she says.
Best Bets for Back Care: Be Good to Your Back
Start with good posture: Maintain good posture in day-to-day activities and while exercising. Keep your shoulders back when sitting, avoid slouching and don’t sit for more than 30 minutes without moving around.
Be smart about shoes: Also be aware of what you are wearing on your feet. Though high heels are very fashionable, good back health depends on appropriate footwear, especially if you are active.
Strengthen the core: Strengthen your core to maintain good back health and improve your balance. Crunches, modified crunches with weights or medicine balls, planks, bridges, and back extensions, among other exercises, will improve your core. Ask your athletic trainer or other medical expert to review appropriate form for best results.
Practice proper lifting techniques: Lift with your legs, bend at the knees and keep your back straight, advises Dieringer. The strength from the legs will provide added power—whether for sports participation or household activities like lifting a laundry basket or even picking up children or pets. Minimize twisting, especially when carrying something. To minimize torque on the spine, turn the body instead and keep hips and shoulders facing the same direction.
Care for the whole back (upper and lower): Make sure to incorporate upper and lower back muscles as a part of your weight room workout or during regular physical activity.
Minimize static bending or stooping positions: If movement causes you to bend over or stoop, take frequent breaks and extend your back when you stand up. With spring here and gardening and other outdoor activities planned, the rest breaks and stretching will help maintain flexibility and mobility.
Keep moving: Couch potatoes, get up! The best thing you can do for your back is to maintain mobility. Walking is an outstanding activity for good back health.
Support your back when sitting or sleeping: Sit with knees slightly bent and higher than your hips. When sleeping, maintain your lumbar curves whenever possible, using pillows if necessary.
Maintain back flexibility: Use movement and extension exercises to maintain proper back flexibility. Press-ups or standing back extensions are both good exercises.
If your back is giving you pain signals, pay attention, says Dieringer. Radiating pain from your spine into your thigh and/or down to your foot should not be ignored. While this symptom has a few possible causes, it should be addressed quickly. Stop your activity and rest. Be sure to consult your physician on how to proceed. Ignoring back pain can lead to complications.
“By following a healthy regimen to maintain good posture, proper back and body mechanics, your movements should be easy, pain-free and with great range of motion,” concludes Dieringer. “These tips will ensure you’re ready to enjoy physical activities throughout spring and the seasons ahead.”
Source: The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) represents and supports members of the athletic training profession. Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and sport-related illnesses. Visit the NATA website (http://www.nata.org) to learn more about this profession.