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The Road to Good Back Health

5 Tips to Maintaining Good Back Health

The American Medical Association (AMA) estimates 70 to 85 percent of people experience some form of back pain during their lives. The AMA also reports that back pain is the most frequent cause of activity limitation in Americans under the age of 45 and is the second most frequent reason for visits to a family physician.

Back pain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) can arise from many different causes. Most cases of back pain are caused by stresses on the multiple muscles and ligaments that support our spines. The symptoms can range from a dull, annoying ache to severe agonizing pain.

For most women, complaints of back pain are common. Either as a side effect during pregnancy or through everyday work and activities, the daily stresses on an average woman's spine can be numerous.

"In order for a woman to keep her back healthy and in shape, she should perform regular aerobic exercise to maintain endurance and keep her weight under control. This, combined with using good body mechanics and posture, should prevent most back injuries and expedite a speedy recovery in those which do occur," says Charlene Hannon, physical therapist and clinical supervisor at the Hospital for Special Surgery's Spine and Rheumatology Therapy Center in Manhattan, N.Y.

The following tips provide information on what exactly can cause injury to your back, as well as how to maintain its health and form.

Proper Lifting Techniques 101

Knowing the correct ways to go about conducting your everyday activities as well as protecting your back's health is vitally important. This is especially true when it comes to household chores and the daily activities of moms.

If you're a new mom, try lifting your baby out of the crib by placing the crib side down and pull your little one toward you. Don't attempt to bend over the side of the crib and lift the baby over the top. At times, if you are breastfeeding, upper back pain may seem unavoidable. However, when you are in a feeding session, bring your newborn to your breast, rather than bending over the baby, and always make an effort to sit in an upright chair rather than a soft, albeit comfy, couch.

When you are lifting up your child from the floor, try to bend from your knees and not your waist. Squat down, tighten the muscles in your stomach and lift your little one with your legs.

Take a Good Look at Your Mattress

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) based out of Alexandria, Va., recommends we should avoid staying in one sleep position for long periods of time, since inactivity may cause muscle weakness, and that we should try to sleep on a firm mattress and avoid using pillows that are oversized.

When choosing a new mattress and/or pillow, finding one that is not only supportive but comfortable is the key. Lie down and test out the mattress at the time of purchase to check for fit, firmness and comfort. Don't forget to take proper care of the mattress, and it is a good idea to routinely flip the mattress over several times during the course of a year to help keep your body indentations on the mattress from becoming permanent.

Nothing beats that wonderful feeling of having the right pillow to rest your head on at night, especially at the end of an exhaustive day. A pillow should assist in properly aligning your head, neck and shoulders, thus relieving the tension on the spine. Avoid pillows that appear to be either too low or high, which can cause your neck to become distorted, leading to strain on a woman's back and neck muscles.

Rethink Your Sleeping Position

Make sure that you move your sleeping positions during the night. Neglecting to adjust your position may lead to weakness in the muscles of the spine, and most specialists suggest trying to avoid lying on your tummy at night.

"Sleeping on your stomach is particularly problematic for women with neck problems, but in general, sleeping on the stomach is not recommended for most. But it may be preferred and recommended for some women with back pain. If a woman is experiencing pain while sleeping, a physical therapist can evaluate her spine and make recommendations as to the best sleeping position for that individual," advises Hannon.

Having a Healthful Diet

Maintaining a healthy weight can play a tremendous part in the success of maintaining back health. "Having a diet that is well balanced and healthy, along with good weight control, is very important," agrees Hannon.

Statistics have shown that excessive pounds may put a strain on your spine and may also play a role in straining and weakening the abdomen muscles. The intake of a healthy, well balanced diet that contains plenty of servings of fresh vegetables and fruits may provide the proper vitamins, minerals and nutrients required to assist in making a woman's back feel stronger and less susceptible to injury and pain.

Get Up and Start Moving

Starting any form of a daily exercise routine is essential for maintaining not only one's mental and physical health, but one's back as well. "Postural exercises will help to maintain good strength throughout the lifespan," says Hannon.

Yoga is an ancient practice that began in India more than 4,000 years ago and has become an increasingly popular form of exercise in the United States throughout recent years. Yoga consists mostly of a combination of different forms of exercise as well as meditation, and it assists in promoting health and the prevention of disease. "Yoga promotes flexibility through stretching, and in general, these two forms of exercise are fine for women with no history of back pain or back problems," says Hannon. However, she advises that for these particular women, they should check with a physical therapist who can then, "evaluate and make recommendations about which movements, directions, postures and poses to avoid and which ones that may be beneficial."

If attempting the stretching exercises that Yoga offers is just not your style, then look at taking a walk. Treat yourself to a pair of good, supportive walking shoes and start stepping. This is a wonderful activity that you can enjoy with your spouse or partner and family. It will not only help improve the muscles on your lower body, but will assist in maintaining good cardiovascular health.

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