Many patients who come to the Spine Institute Northwest from Canada are looking for ways to deal with pain that affects the back, neck, and shoulders. Depending on the cause, this pain may extend to the feet, hips, knees, or arms, or it may be linked with other problems like chronic headaches. By the time patients are looking outside their own country for care, their pain has often progressed to the point that it is unbearable, and it has been unresponsive to conservative treatments. But for people who are experiencing back pain that is relatively minor, lifestyle changes can make a difference in overall health and wellbeing. Here are four simple things you can do to improve your back health and potentially find relief from pain.
1. Practice Good Posture
We normally think of kids and teens as the ones who need posture correction, but there are plenty of adults who are offenders, too. One good rule of thumb: From the side your back should look like a very gentle S-curve. It should never look like a dramatic, exaggerated curve, and your shoulders should be aligned with your hips—not in front nor in back. Though your mother might have told you to “stand up straight,” when you are standing up straight, your lower back should have a slight curve to it.
2. Keep an Eye on Ergonomics
Whether you’re at work or at home, when you’re sitting down, make sure you’re practicing good ergonomics. You might think that when you’re sitting, your muscles aren’t at work. But whether you’re looking at a computer screen or holding a book, different muscles are continuously engaged. If you’re “off” in one way or another, you’re more likely to feel stiff or sore when you stand up. When you’re seated, you should be able to place your feet flat on the floor, with your hips parallel to the ground. Your back should be supported, and you should not need to lean or crane your neck to see what you’re doing. If you’re at a desk, you should be able to keep your forearms even with your work surface so that your wrists can comfortably reach your keyboard and mouse. Another good idea: At least once every half hour, stand up, stretch, and readjust. It’s easier to wind up slumping or slouching if you’re sitting in one place for hours on end.
3. Make Sure Your Clothes Fit
It seems like it would not make much of a difference, but ill-fitting clothing can exacerbate minor aches and pains. If you are wearing clothes that are too tight around your neck, chest, or shoulders, it can cause you to shift and stretch over and over throughout your day. Similarly, clothing that fits too loose or too tight around your waist can make you fidget or lead you to sit or stand in an unnatural position. All of those minor movements add up, and can leave you with aches and pains later in the day.
4. Stretch, Don’t Strain
You can perform stretches that lengthen the spine, but be sure you’re doing so with correct form, and not going beyond your body’s natural limits. Over-stretching any body part can cause it to become more painful. You might think that pushing it just a little further will make you feel better, but performing a gentler stretch more than once is better for you than pushing as far as you can go. Like any muscles in your body, muscles that support your spine are sort of like a rubber band—regularly over-stretching them can cause your muscles to lose strength and elasticity.
While these lifestyle changes may provide some measure of relief even to people suffering from more severe back pain, if you are struggling with intractable pain that has not responded to conservative treatments it’s time to get back your life. The physicians at the Spine Institute Northwest have treated patients from across the provinces who are seeking relief from chronic back pain that stems from a wide array of causes. We offer cutting-edge treatments in an outpatient setting, and with free concierge service for Canadian patients, we make traveling to our clinic as easy as possible. Call us at 888-712-0318 and talk to one of our patient advocates to get started.