“Step on a crack, break your mama’s…”
Did you avoid stepping on the sidewalk cracks when you were a kid? I did as a game walking home from school, but I really didn’t think I’d injure my sweet mama if I did so. However, there are activities that we do every day that have the potential to harm our own backs. The medical literature is full of studies that show “low back pain is the leading cause of activity limitation and work absence throughout much of the world…” (Priority Medicines for Europe and the World 2013 Update, Chapter 6.24 Low Back Pain, World Health Organization). The same report states: “The causes of low back pain are rarely addressed.” Interestingly, the report comments on future research needs that focus on diagnosis with biomarkers for people at risk for back pain as well as treatments that include biomaterials for disc replacement in the spine and stem cell research to restore the discs.
Wait a minute. If “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and not much is said in the medical literature about back pain prevention but rather, focus is on expensive experimental diagnostics and treatments, we should be putting more attention on prevention and caring for our backs. This is especially true the more active we are. Paying attention to proper form with strength training and posture during cardio exercises is KEY to preventing back injury. Further, in activities of daily living, awareness of body posture and mechanics when sitting, standing, lifting, and even sleeping will help us keep our backs healthy.
After my first back injury with lifting improperly in my 20’s, then noting it more when lifting my children in my 30’s, my visit to the physical therapist on back health education truly helped me when I started using the recommendations regularly.
The #1 key to remember with loving your back is: maintain neutral spine position as much as possible.
So, feel free to step on all of the sidewalk cracks you want to! For a true back pain-free life, follow the above recommendations. And love your back as your mama loves you!
Liz is a Fellow of the American Board of Internal Medicine and a medical doctor for 23 years, formerly with the US Army, currently practicing in the Washington, DC area. In addition, she holds a Master’s of Public Health Degree and Assistant Professorship with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD and certification as a Group Fitness Instructor with the American Council on Exercise.