Shop But Don’t Drop
Low back pain has been a common theme around the clinic lately. Every year around this time, there seems to be an increase in patients complaining of back pain – aches and pains from raking leaves and performing yard work, back strain from lifting moving boxes, or chronic pain that patients have dealt with for years that they want to address before the holidays.
With yard work in full swing and holiday shopping right around the corner, I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about preventing and treating low back pain. If you experience low back pain, you are not alone. Approximately one quarter of Americans experience low back pain within the past three months at any given time.1
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offers these tips to prevent low back pain on their website www.moveforwardpt.com:
- Keep your back, stomach, and leg muscles strong and flexible.
- Keep your body in alignment, so it can be more efficient when you move
- Don’t slouch – keep good posture
- Use good body positioning at work, home, or during leisure activities
- When lifting, keep the load close to your body
- Ask for help or use an assistive device to lift heavy objects
- Maintain a regular physical fitness regimen. Staying active can help to prevent injuries.
So what about the shopping season? Black Friday is one of my favorite days of the year – I’m not an aggressive, knock-you-down shopper but I can brave the crowds with the best of them. But shopping around the holidays can turn into an all-day, exhausting event. Consider these tips to keep your body from wearing down before you do:
- Wear comfortable shoes such as walking or running shoes when shopping. When it comes to walking the mall, comfort should win out over your cutest pair of heels to prevent stress to your ankles and feet.
- Lighten your load when you can. If you have young children, consider using your stroller for packages. If you are shopping for a lot of items or for a long period of time, consider making frequent trips to your car to drop off packages. This provides extra exercise while reducing the stress on your back muscles.
- Distribute the weight of packages and shopping bags evenly on both sides of your body. This means that you have to avoid holding all your bags in one hand to sip your favorite Starbucks drink or fumble for your keys. This also means avoiding what I call “attitude standing” – propping all your weight through one hip (often times to hold a child propped on that same hip). This type of positioning can create undesirable forces through the hip joints, pelvis, and spine.
- Keep your suitcase (I mean purse) weight to a minimum to avoid undue stress and fatigue. Only carry necessary items such as your wallet and keys. When carrying your purse, consider strapping that makes your body work the least or uses large joints over smaller joints. For example, use a bag that has a shoulder strap or can be worn as a backpack instead of a purse with short, handheld handles.
- Plan ahead if possible. Whether you are going to campout to get the best deals or do a marathon shopping spree, you can ease physical and mental stress by making a list and avoiding prime shopping times. Remember that long lines and busy parking lots increase your time standing and walking. If you must be a part of the hustle and bustle this month, check out www.blackfriday.info to get a jump start on your shopping plan of attack.
I Have Low Back Pain – Now What?
While most back pain is mild and resolves on its own, some pain persists or comes back repeatedly over time. A lot of my patients who have experienced low back pain for years tell me they have tried multiple treatment options without success. They also report that each time the pain returns, it seems to worsen.
When you experience low back pain, one of the best things to do is to stay active and continue with your normal routine as much as possible. This seems to contradict the old approach of “putting someone to bed” when he is “down in his back.” The APTA states that bed rest for longer than a day can slow down your recovery. If your pain worsens or lasts more than a few days, then it is time to see your physical therapist. Immediate medical attention should be sought if you experience loss of bowel or bladder control, numbness in the groin or inner thigh, and/or pain that does not change with rest.
The mad rush of the holidays is just around the corner. Following these simple tips and taking care of your body will allow you to enjoy the season and shop without the drop.