Health

Sit all day? 5 Tips for back health

Much like many people in this more technologically advanced world of working at computers, I sit all day. The research on the harmful, sometimes  deadly, effects of sitting for long periods of time is overwhelming.

“Sitting 6+ hours a day makes you up to 40% likelier to die within 15 years than someone who sits less than 3. Even if you exercise.”  (see Inforgraphic)

This is serious for all of us, but for me, it’s even more so as I’ve been dealing with back issues since 1997, when I had discectomy for two severely herniated discs. I was only 26, worked out regularly, had never had a seriously bad fall or accident, but one morning I woke up, bent down to plug in my blow dryer, using my knees no less, and couldn’t get back up. An emergency room visit, two orthopedic surgeons telling me that physical therapy wasn’t an option, and 4 weeks later, I was at the hospital being prepped for surgery.

Click for full Infographic
Click for full Infographic

My doctors warned me that surgery only fixed the immediate problem, which was herniation so severe that any sudden movement could cause paralysis, hence physical therapy not being an option. They told me that I would most likely deal with back pain for the rest of my life and I would have to be careful about physical activity.

Initially, I tried to be a good little patient, walking in constant fear of how my back would react, but I was young and stubborn  and got bored within the first two weeks of my physical therapy. I stopped going, and went right back to the Tae Bo workouts I’d been doing before the episode, unwilling to limit myself for the sake of my back. It worked! I had surgery in early December ’97 and by late January, I was back to my normal activities. But my doctors had been right, my back has never been the same, and for years I suffered through some severe episodes that would last a week or more. One episode started simply by my sneezing while I reached for my shampoo bottle in the shower.

Sixteen years is a long time, though, and in that time I’ve learned ways to manage my back, so as to limit the episodes, and I’m happy to say that I haven’t had a severe episode in about 3 years. So I want to share my tips with you, with the duh disclaimer that I am not a medical professional and am simply sharing what has worked for me.

Stretch I sometimes think that my co-workers think that I must be in constant pain because I’m always stretching at my desk when they walk by. I’m not, I’m trying to ward off pain. Stretching is not only great for your muscles, it also helps to release stress, which is horrible for your back, and increase your energy. Click here for Simple Stretches You Can Do at Your Desk.

Walk it Out Since I recently recommitted myself to (re)adopting good health habits, I’ve increased my water consumption. As a result—you can guess why—I walk more often. For a long time, I would sit at my desk only getting up once or twice during the day, and now I really feel the difference and realize what not getting up and walking around was doing to my health.

Lift and bend using your knees Yes, I realize you already know this, and considering that my back’s back story mentioned that I was using my knees when my back went out, it may seem weird that I’m saying this, but it’s true. Even if you have a strong core, lifting with your legs offers much more support. Need more convincing? Click here. Speaking of your Core A strong core is essential to good back health. I am lucky that my natural build is a muscular one, and therefore my core is pretty strong, in spite of being at almost my highest weight ever. But maintaining that strength is important, so I like to chair dance. I simply turn on some dance music—I’m Latina and think the merengue beat is perfect for this— straighten my upper body in my chair and making sure my core is tight I move it side to side and around to the beat. Try it and tell me what you think. Here’s a song suggestion:

Watch your weight I know this goes without saying, and it’s not specific to sitting. I also know that there are heavier people out there who are fit, BUT being fit has to include ensuring that you are not putting extra pressure on your back with added weight it can’t carry. My weight has gone up and down a lot during the last few years, when I stopped taking care of myself the way I did for most of my life, and even though I haven’t had a serious episode (mostly because I’m more careful and do the things I’ve mentioned above) I can feel the fatigue of carrying the extra weight. I am now also starting to feel the pressure on my knees, making following that tip a bit painful. So love yourself whatever size you are, but also remember that your health is about much more than just your cholesterol and blood pressure. Have any tips to share? Let me know! Infographic Source: medicalbillingandcoding.org

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