How to protect your back

Whatever your lifestyle, there are many simple ways which Australians can help protect their backs.
At work
If you have a desk-bound job, don’t sit longer for 45 minutes at a time. When your body is in a position for more than 45 minutes, your brain recognises it as a position to hold and can cause some of your muscles to shorten. If that posture becomes locked, it can make your whole body shift into a crooked position once you’re standing.

Make sure you sit comfortably with your back supported in the base of your chair, with your head directly over your body – if you sit with your head forward, it can add strain to your neck and back.
Try cutting down on some of the habits that can aggravate your stress. Caffeine and nicotine can have the effect of creating a sense of anxiety even when you aren’t worried about anything.
Make sure you lift close to your body with your feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees and keep your back straight and lift with your legs – not your back. It’s always recommended to get help from someone else so you’re not straining your body.
Up to 20 percent of all sports-related injuries involve the lower back or neck, with weekend sports lovers, who might be couch potatoes the rest of the week, especially vulnerable.

Certain sports can further aggravate your back injuries, for example the constant mechanics of a golf swing puts stress and torque on the rotation of your back, while fast bowlers in cricket have to take particular care to protect their back. Many sports encourage weight training, which of itself can stress the back.

Before taking to the field or the court, there are some key things you must do to first strengthen your back to prevent any or further injury.

Tamer Sabet, a specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist based in Australia says: “I would recommend choosing one or more regular exercises that are moderate in intensity, promotes movement, and above all is enjoyable.”
Strengthen your core
By strengthening your core you can reduce damage caused by repetitive motions such as golf or tennis swings. Stomach crunches and pilates exercises are great at strengthening the muscles that protect your spine. This is an important step in your exercise routine; even as you start to build up muscles, it’s important to keep strengthening. A trainer can help design the best workout plan to ensure you continue to strengthen your core.
Swimming helps condition your core and the muscles that support your back. It’s a very low impact environment for getting your heart rate up, without jarring the joints and spine. Aqua aerobics, water walking and swim laps are ideal to build up your muscle strength and prevent any injuries.

Aerobic exercise Reconditioning through aerobic exercise is very useful for both rehabilitation and maintenance of the lower back. Patients who regularly undertake aerobic exercise to condition the back will benefit in several ways:

  • You are likely to have fewer episodes of low back pain, and will experience less pain when an episode occurs
  • It is easier to control weight or lose weight, decreasing the stress placed on the spine structures and joints
  • An increased production of endorphins after 30 or 40 minutes of exercise can combat pain. These biochemicals are the body’s natural painkiller, and frequent release of them can help you reduce your reliance on pain medication
  • Endorphins can elevate mood and relieve symptoms of depression, a condition common in those with back pain or a back injury.

Another important facet of protecting your back when playing sport is warming up and stretching prior to playing. This will help prevent any injury on the field.

The most effective warm-up will target the muscles used in that sport, and it should also prepare the back for the stresses to come.

This means the warm-up for golf will be different from the warm up for tennis, for example. However there will be common elements. A typical warm-up should include:

  • Increase circulation gradually by doing some easy movement (such as walking) to increase blood circulation to the muscles and ligaments of the back
  • Stretch the lower and upper back and related muscles, including hamstrings and quadriceps
  • Start slowly with the movements specific to the sport (e.g. swing the golf club, serve the ball), before progressing to more full-on practice of shots or movements.
Talk to your doctor
Please be sure to talk to your doctor about whether you can and should be playing sport with your back injury as it could potentially cause more damage to your muscles.

If you are unsure about your suitability to exercise, please be sure to consult a health professional such as your physiotherapist or general practitioner.
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