How to Take Care of Your Back

Last month, I talked about proper lifting technique. This month will focus on ways to take care of your back. However, only the principles will be discussed in this article. I will talk and demonstrate the practical area in a presentation on Wednesday, Oct. 14th, 11am–12pm in the Mettler Center lounge.

When a person stands next to a plumb line, the ear, shoulder, hip, knee and (slightly in front of the ankle) should all line up. In profile, the neck should be slightly in front of the line, upper back behind, the low back in front and the pelvis (sacrum) behind the line. It is a double “S” curve of the spine. It is the strongest way to support an upright posture. This is the normal and best posture while standing. It is the the posture in which the muscles need to work the least and our joints are subjected to the minimal stress. We say it is "bad" posture if any curve is exaggerated or diminished. With this idea in mind, we should maintain these curves whenever we are upright.

When the back hurts, people become very sensitive to the chairs they sit on. It is because any alteration in the curve will increase the stress to the injured tissues. Therefore, sitting on a low soft couch will not be tolerable for most people with back pain. In order to maintain the curve in the low back, a cushion or some kind of support should be put behind the low back, just under the waist line.

In a lying position, the spine does not need to support the body as it is in the upright position. Therefore, the goal is not to maintain the curve but to support the back. When a person lies flat, the back is not supported by the bed because of the bulk tissue in the buttock. In order to flatten the back, one to two pillows should be put under the knee. However, in a side-lying position, one to two pillows should be placed between knees to support the top leg. In that way, the top leg will not drop and twist the back.

This is a brief overview of some little things we can do to prevent back problems, or to ease it if one has developed some pain. More practical ideas will be covered in the presentation. Stay tuned, and I hope to see some of you at the presentation.

Peggy Hau, PT, MscPT is a licensed physical therapist at Mettler Center. Have questions about back injuries? Ask an Expert. Your injury can be evaluated by a physical therapist who can detect functional problems and make the best possible recommendation for treatment. Call 217-398-9800 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with a physical therapist or request an appointment online.