Back pain is one of the most frequent health problems encountered in a medical office or emergency room.  In fact, most people will have at least one episode of back pain in their lifetime.  Unfortunately, very few people are ever taught good back health or the basics of preventing back pain.  Similar to many other health issues, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  The two cornerstones of back pain prevention are posture and exercise.  Most common back pains are caused by muscle fatigue.  A more severe and sudden back pain is caused by muscle spasm.  Muscle spasm is caused by poor posture and lack of exercise.  Muscle spasm can also be caused by something as simple as a cough or sneeze or lifting a light object the wrong way.

Poor posture leads to stress in the back ligaments and over time can lead to malalignment.  This malalignment then causes stress on the muscles and a vicious circle is begun.  It makes sense that the earlier one learns good posture, the less likely they will develop problems later in life.  It is unfortunate that there is far less stress on good posture in schools today than in previous years.

Back exercises are designed specifically for the back muscles.  By stretching and strengthening these muscles, muscle spasm can be prevented.  Muscles can also spasm when you are dehydrated or your salt levels in the blood are not right.  Therefore, drinking fluids while working will help.  Most people with back pain would rather rest and move the back as little as possible.  This is the opposite of what should be done.  Inactivity leads to more back problems.  Therefore, the best thing to do with mild back pain is to begin right away with posture training and stretching.  If the pain is more severe, then a short time of rest is indicated.  However, the posture and stretching and exercises will need to begin at least slowly.

Anyone who works for a large company has probably heard the term “ergonomics”.  Ergonomics is applying the science of workplace design in a way that increases productivity and decreases fatigue and injury.  Most companies want to prevent injuries caused by heavy lifting or by repetitive actions.  Many companies also provide chairs that promote good posture for their employees who sit much of the day.  Unfortunately though, few employers stress good posture and back exercises and few employees seek out this type of advice.  You, on the other hand, even if you have not experienced back pain, can take a preventive action and educate yourself.  Below are two websites which will show proper posture and show the exercises.  If you are someone that has frequent issues with back pain, you may want to consider discussing this with your doctor.  Your doctor may be able to refer you to a physical therapist who can evaluate you and your activities and offer an exercise and stretching program that is tailored to your individual needs.

The websites of the Mayo Clinic and Medline Plus offer useful information and exercises for improving the health and strength of your back.

Dr. Joanmarie Pellegrini is a surgeon and trauma specialist at Eastern Maine Medical center in Bangor.