General cardiovascular exercise (which increases your heart and breathing rate) e.g. walking, swimming, cycling have been proven to be extremely effective in keeping your back healthy. General exercise helps to keep your joints mobile, your muscles strong and boosts your blood circulation (which keeps the body’s tissues healthy).
Stretch your back
Frequent gentle stretches will help to ease stiffness in your joints, maintain suppleness and improve circulation. Think of stretches as a way of ‘lubricating your joints’. Your physiotherapist can show you some basic exercises.
Body weight is supported by the spine, therefore any excess body weight can put more strain through the joints, discs and muscles.
The spine has a natural curve and it is important to try to maintain this natural position as far as possible. When standing, most people have a reasonable posture. However, many people sit in a ‘slumped’ position which can put abnormal stresses through the spine. Consider your position when you relax on the couch. Is your back supported? What about your job? Do you spend lots of time using a computer, sitting at a desk or driving? Office chair – ideally, your chair should have a back rest for support. Adjust the height accordingly so the work surface is ‘elbow high’. Try using a lumbar roll on your chair or car seat (a foam roll which sits in the small of your back to support you). Computers – make sure your monitor and keyboard are close to you to prevent you from ‘hunching’ over the desk. Your screen should be raised so it is at eye-level. Driving – sit a comfortable distance from the steering wheel. Reaching increases pressure on the lumbar spine so sitting too far away can aggravate back pain.
Lifting and carrying
Most importantly, have a look at what you are going to lift / carry. Is it too large, too heavy or too awkward? If so, don’t lift it. If it needs to be moved, get someone to help you.
If you are lifting / carrying, always bend your knees and hips, not your back. Never twist and bend at the same time. If you are carrying something, keep it close to your body.
Don’t sit too long, even if you are having an episode of back pain do not rest completely.
A mattress preference is a personal choice. Firmer does not always necessarily mean better. Be sceptical of advertising gimmicks which describe their product as ‘Orthopaedic’ or ‘medically approved’. There has been no extensive medical research which suggests that certain mattresses are better for back pain. When testing a mattress you should feel comfortable and generally well-supported.
Research has shown that smoking can impair your blood circulation. Discs in your back (as well as other structures such as the joints) rely on good circulation to keep them healthy. If circulation is poor, this can lead to earlier degeneration (wear and tear) of these discs.