Posts Tagged ‘back pain’

Avoiding Back Pain in Your Own Backyard

Now that Spring has sprung, you may get the urge to prepare your garden beds, clean up your yard, and maybe plant a new tree or shrub.

Just don’t try to do it all in one weekend, or you may wake up Monday morning bent over with back pain and a stiff neck.

But it doesn’t have to be that way if you’re smart, says Dr. Jay M. Lipoff, a chiropractor, certified fitness trainer, and nationally recognized expert in spinal injury prevention.

Dr. Lipoff is also the author of Back at Your Best: Balancing the Demands of Life With the Needs of Your Body, and an executive board member of the ICA Council of Fitness and Health Sports Science.

Here are some techniques from Dr. Lipoff that can save your spine while performing these four common backyard chores:

Raking and Hoeing

Raking is a one-sided chore because you tend to turn to one side and predominantly use one arm.

Try to engage both sides of your body when performing the motion.

Hoeing also puts more strain on one arm and hand.

With both raking and hoeing, switch sides every few minutes, even though it will feel awkward.

If you’re working a large area, give yourself a break every 20 minutes with a rest, a glass of lemonade, or switch to a different type of activity.

Always walk to where you need to be–don’t reach with the hoe or rake, which will cause more stress to the muscles of your lower back.

Digging and Shoveling

Whether you’re digging a hole or shoveling compost into your wheelbarrow, the key to avoiding back injury is to take it slowly and don’t overload the shovel.

Wear heavy-duty boots so you can step down hard onto the shovel, letting your body weight do much of the work.

Bend your knees when lifting the shovel so those big muscles in your legs and buttocks are doing the heavy lifting, and you’re not bent over, straining your back.

If you have to shovel something heavy, such as gravel, use your thigh as a fulcrum (think of the shovel as a seesaw) by placing the handle of the shovel onto it about three quarters of the way down.

Now all you have to do is push down on the handle to lift up that heavy gravel.


If you can’t afford a lawn service and don’t have kids who can do this chore for you, the next best thing is a riding mower.

Make sure it has a comfortable seat, because all that bouncing on a bad seat wrecks your back.

If you can’t get your seat replaced, try sitting on a boat cushion.

If you mow slowly, it will diminish any unevenness in the terrain.

If you prefer a push mower, try to get one that is self-propelled, which reduces strain going up hills and around curves.

With any push mower, self-propelled or not, pushing is better for your back than pulling; try to limit back-and-forth yanking.

Stay close to the mower to avoid overreaching.

Trimming and Weed Whacking

A trimmer and a weed whacker are terribly designed machines.

(A quick aside: whenever I see or hear the words “weed whacker” I think of Carl Hiaasen’s wacky character Chemo, the hit man with the weed whacker attached to the stump of his arm. Puts a smile on my face!)

Both machines require you to hold them in front of your body while leaning forward.

The weight in front of you is multiplied by 10-15 times the actual weight of the trimmer or weed whacker.

In addition, just leaning forward creates 200 pounds of additional pressure per square inch on the discs of your spine.

If your trimmer comes with a shoulder strap to minimize back strain, use it.

Otherwise, Dr. Lipoff recommends strategic stonewalls, flower gardens, a neighborhood kid, and mulching to reduce the need for trimmers at all.

If you use one, be careful so you’re not sore the next day.

One final piece of advice from Dr. Lipoff: “Before launching into any big outdoor project, whether it’s stacking firewood or moving patio furniture out of the garage, take a few minutes to loosen up.

Do some stretches to warm up your muscles.

If you take care of your back when doing outdoor chores, your back will take care of you.”

More Evidence Tai Chi Eases Low Back Pain

A growing body of evidence suggests that Tai Chi may be effective for easing pain and improving the quality of life of those with persistent low back pain.

Despite the widespread use of Tai Chi for back pain, surprisingly few Western studies have evaluated Tai Chi for back pain.

Now the results of the first larger-scale clinical trial studying the effect of Tai Chi for persistent low back pain have just been published in the November issue of the journal Arthritis Care & Research.

An Australian team led by Dr. Amanda Hall randomly assigned 160 adults between age 18 and 70 to either 10 weeks of Tai Chi training based on a simplified form, called “Tai Chi for Back Pain” developed by Dr. Paul Lam, or to a control group.

The results showed that Tai Chi significantly improved bothersome back pain symptoms (1.7 points on a 0-10 scale), which was the study’s primary outcome.

The participants also said they experienced less pain-related disability and felt their health-related quality of life had improved.

They also said they felt better in general for having done Tai Chi.

The researchers’ conclusion: Tai Chi is safe and effective for those experiencing long-term low back pain symptoms.

In a small, unpublished pilot study, Harvard researchers Peter Wayne, PhD, and Gloria Yeh, MD, anonymously surveyed 144 Tai Chi practitioners, average age 53, two-thirds of them women, at Boston area Tai Chi schools.

More than half said they have used Tai Chi for back or neck pain, and nearly all reported Tai Chi was “helpful” or “very helpful.”

“The gentle movements of Tai Chi might help begin to gently stretch and strengthen tissues and improve local circulation in the back,” says Wayne, who is Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of Research, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Division of Preventive Medicine Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“Because Tai Chi is done slowly and mindfully, it is less likely to cause more trauma to injured regions of the back.

The reduction in what is often unconscious pain can lead to more efficient gait and posture, putting less biomechanical strain on tissues, including connective tissues.

Mindful breathing might help you sense and even massage regions of the lower back, and the meditative, stress-reducing aspects of Tai Chi might improve your anxiety, mood, and sleep pattern.”

The bottom line: If you have chronic low back pain, the many components of Tai Chi may just help relieve your pain.

Back Pain Relief from a Herniated Disc

Back pain is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost days at work and it is one of the most common reasons to visit a doctor’s office or a hospital’s emergency department.

The good news is that most back pain will go away in a few weeks with some basic self-care.

But if pain is severe or lasts more than a couple of weeks, medical evaluation is called for.

“Back pain is not a disease but a symptom with many possible underlying causes,” says Dr. Andrew M. Peretz, a leading specialist in spine surgery with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Group based in Westchester County, NY.

After strains and sprains, one of the most common causes of back pain is a herniated disc.

A herniated, or ruptured, disc is generally precipitated by years of wear and tear.

This occurs when a tear in the tough outer layer of cartilage allows some of the soft inner material to protrude out of the disk.

This is more likely to happen as you age and the discs weaken and become more prone to tearing, says Dr. Peretz.

The lower back (lumbar region) of the spine is the most common location of a herniated disc.

If the disc presses on the main nerve that travels down the leg, it can cause sciatica – sharp, shooting pain through the buttock and back of the leg – as well as tingling or numbness in the legs or feet and muscle weakness.

Most herniated discs resolve on their own or with conservative treatment, which includes rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy.

Some people find that ice packs or moist heat applied to the affected area provide some relief.

“A day or two of rest is recommended,” says Dr. Peretz, “but no more unless you have severe pain.

Staying in bed too long can weaken the muscles and make the problem worse.”

Moderate walking and light activity may help, as well as exercises recommended by a physician or physical therapist that help keep your back muscles strong.

Exercises to maintain and develop your back muscles may include toe touches (with and without rotation), hurdler stretch, pelvic tilt, back extension, and hip extension.

If you do not respond to conservative treatment, an injection of a cortisone-like medicine into the lower back might help reduce swelling and inflammation of the nerve roots, relieving symptoms and improving mobility.

These injections are referred to as epidurals or nerve blocks and their effects sometimes last months.

Surgery is generally advised only for those who do not respond to other treatments, whose symptoms get progressively worse, or who experience progressive neurological decline.

It isn’t always possible to prevent the degeneration that induces a herniated disc but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.

These include general best practices for good health: weight control, regular exercise and not smoking.

There are also some specific things you can do to promote back health:

Use proper lifting techniques.

Do not bend at the waist.

Bend your knees while keeping your back straight and use your strong leg muscles to help you support the load.

Practice good posture when walking, sitting, standing, and sleeping.

For example, stand up straight with your shoulders back, abdomen in, and the small of your back flat.

Sit with your feet flat on the floor or elevated.

Sleep on a firm mattress and sleep on your side, not your stomach.

Stretch often when sitting for long periods of time.

Do not wear high-heeled shoes.

High heel shoes cause you to lean forward and the body’s response to that is to decrease the forward curve of your lower back to help keep you in line.

Poor alignment may lead to muscle overuse and back pain.

“Most back and leg pain will get better gradually – usually within six weeks — by taking simple measures,” Dr. Peretz says.

“People with herniated discs generally respond well to conservative treatment and are able to return to their normal activities.”