Crispy bacon, fresh lettuce, garden tomato, salt, pepper, and warm bread.
Sounds like a delicious sandwich right? BLTs can be a great treat once in a while for lunch but NOT so great when it comes to a healthy spine. As a physical therapist, when I hear BLT, I think “bending,” “lifting,” and “twisting.” These seemingly innocent maneuvers put excessive torque and pressure on the spine and often push the spine beyond its limits resulting in acute or chronic back pain. Most of us take what our spines can do for us, for granted. But the spine is a complex machine made of muscles, bones, joints, nerves and shock absorbers.
The joints in our backs are like hinges on a door to your house. They open and close over and over again. If we slam the door shut one too many times, the hinge comes loose and starts to squeak. A lot like doors, our spines can only tolerate opening and closing so many times before the hinges start to act up. Back pain plagues as many as 80% of adults at some point in their life. And 20% of those adults will develop chronic back pain within 1 year. Back pain is one of the primary reasons for missing work and going to the doctor’s office.
When people ask me if they should get physical therapy for back pain, I ask them “what do you do when the shocks or tires go on your car?” Most people respond with, “I get them fixed, even if I cannot afford it, I can’t live without a car.” So why do we have this mentality about the vehicles we drive for a few years but not the bodies we rely on to get us around for our entire life. For some reason, many of us hesitate to invest money in the parts that are supposed to get us from one place to another. We don’t worry about our spines until we have back pain that prevents us from picking up our kids, exercising, going to work, or it impacts some other aspect of our quality of life.
I have been a physical therapist for 7 years and I have treated many people with back pain. From minor aches, pains, and strains to major disc bulges, fractures, and fusions. As a physical therapist it is my responsibility to treat your pain but more importantly, to educate you on how to take care of your spine to try and prevent future debilitating episodes of pain. Whether it is lifting your child out of the back seat of the car or helping your friend carry a couch up 3 flights of stairs; there is a proper way to do it. So please, listen carefully and follow these simple rules;
1) Lift with your knees and keep a straight back; this will reduce pressure on the discs and joints of your back and reduce strain on muscles.
2) Exhale as you lift, this will reduce internal pressure on your spine and your heart.
3) Hold the load close to your body; this requires less energy than holding something out in front of you and puts less force through your spine.
4) Plan ahead and do not rush. When we rush, we take short cuts and we make mistakes.
Last but not least,
5) Listen to your body. If you are lifting something, and you feel your back tightening up, stop, rest for a minute, walk around, stretch, and then start over again.
If you follow these 5 rules and you avoid BLTs, you can reduce the pain and strain on your spine. However, if you do injure your back, know that I am here to help.