Five Tips to Prevent Back Pain

In most circumstances, back pain is self-inflicted, I would say. Let me explain. Unless there is a significant injury—such as a road accident, lifting heavy weight, a fall, or a sports-related injury—most of us bring upon ourselves the curse of getting back pain. And this happens as a process of not caring for our bodies, as a whole. The immediate episode of back pain draws our attention, but the truth is that it was “scheduled” to happen, and we let it happen, over a long period of time. So let’s learn how to prevent going down that lane.

As discussed in my earlier blog “why me?” there are some things that are not in your control, i.e., the genes responsible for having a bad back. But avoiding the following back-bashing habits will help us all.

Control/reduce your weight

Now this, each one of us knows, but we FAIL miserably to act upon it. Keeping your weight within limits, apart from various other health advantages, keeps back pain at bay purely by its mechanical advantage. A rule of thumb is: Height in centimeters minus 100 = your approximate ideal weight in kilograms. Lesser kilos put that much less load on the shock absorbers in the back. Called “discs” by doctors, these are cushions between spine bones. So shed kilos, by diet control. Exercises, yoga, etc., will maintain the weight. If you need to lose weight, you must control your diet, or else take medical help from obesity doctors.

Do not sit continuously

The curse of our modern work style – the desk-job! Most of us spend an obscene amount of time sitting. As shown in the photos below, the cushion between the bones is literally squeezed out. This repetitive injury wears out the disc slowly, but surely. Multiply this by the amount of time which we sit. Scientifically, it is proven that the pressures on the disc are at the peak when sitting. What’s the way out? The easiest is to avoid sitting continuously. Take frequent breaks from sitting. Change the way you work, sometimes sitting, and sometimes standing. Recently there was an article in Times of India (Sept 18, 2014) about the advantages of standing at the work place. Many companies and individuals are now adopting these workplace changes to save themselves from this growing issue.

Dr. Uday Pawar spine disc video stills

Safe back habits

Many of us have subconsciously developed the following activities, and we will have to retrain ourselves to avoid them. For example, avoid bending in the back while lifting anything. Go near the object, bend in your knees and lift it. If it is a heavy object, carry it closer to your body, rather than away from it.

Another example is slouching while watching TV. Yes, we all need to relax, but not at the expense of damage to a vital system, which will put you out of action for a long time. Follow all the oft-repeated cardinal rules while sitting, like proper arm and back support, but by far the MOST important of them all is to avoid sitting continuously. Thankfully, the advertising agencies come to our rescue. Get up from your seated position whenever there is a commercial break.

Driving continuously without break in a low-seated sedan is another habit that can harm your back. There is nothing wrong in owning a sedan, but it comes with a potential “extra” price paid by our backs. Again, avoid sitting continuously during journeys, and take frequent breaks. Not to mention the otherwise rough ride we get, due to our Indian roads. A far cry from the German Autobahn or U.S. state highways – that’s another story.

Stay fit by exercising

Motivate yourself. For the last few years, I ran the Mumbai Half marathon. It’s a must-visit occasion for anyone who is procrastinating about his/her fitness. Just be there... the inspiration to start actively doing something about fitness increases manifold. It’s a festive site to the eyes, with people enjoying once they finish their targets. Generally, it needs a health issue for most of us to start thinking about fitness. Let’s take equal interest in games and fitness as in all school subjects of our children. Let’s start motivating them from a younger age. As regards grown-ups, do iron out your medical issues with a fitness expert/doctor before embarking on this “new” journey. Do things the proper way by learning about them. Otherwise, in the haste of getting fit fast, you might injure yourself. As regards the back, starting gradually with strengthening exercises of the stomach and back will help in the long term. Start gradually and build on what you’ve gained – that is the mantra. Involving yourself in fitness groups is another good tip to ensure the longevity of the task. We all get bored after few months of exercises, and that’s when having a group helps. Members of the group motivate each other, and you are left with no excuse, generally. But the fire has to be from within. How long, you ask? The answer is life-long. Being and staying fit is all about doing it for life. No shortcuts.

Check on your vitamin supplements

The Indian diet, unlike the western counterparts, isn't fortified with essential vitamins. In the case of prevention of back pain, vitamin D and the B group are essential. Before starting on rehab, please do check your blood levels of these vital ingredients. The treatment is easiest by taking vitamin supplement pills, since the diet needs obscenely large quantities to take (especially milk and dairy products). But do repeat these at least once a year to keep it under check.

Pawar Dr. Uday Pawar is a spine surgeon, marathon runner, and a trekker. He was recently attached to Global Hospitals, Mumbai, bringing almost 10 years of only spine-related consulting and surgical expertise. His areas of interest are minimally-invasive spine surgery and day care spine surgery. He is also interested in the use of technology to help patients and doctors alike.
Educating patients, and thus helping them to arrive at an informed decision-making process, is what he likes. He also writes spine related blogs to help spine patients to this end.