Most people will experience back or neck pain at some point in their lives. Back and neck pain are among the top causes of disability worldwide, and the number of cases is rising. Some factors behind this are poor posture, increased use of mobile devices, and unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Although it is not always possible to prevent back and neck pain, there are steps people can take to help reduce the chance it will occur.
Why good posture?
One of the most important ways to ensure your spine stays healthy is to maintain good posture. A healthy back has three natural curves—an inward curve at the neck, an outward curve at the upper back, and an inward curve at the lower back. Correct posture helps maintain these natural curves and puts minimal stress on your joints. Faulty posture does the opposite. It can stress or pull muscles, causing musculoskeletal imbalances and pain in the back, neck, and extremities. Some typical postural mistakes are positioning your head too far forward, rounding your shoulders, and slouching so you lose the normal curve in the lower back.
Mobile Devices and Neck Pain
The increasing use of mobile devices can contribute to poor spine health, influencing our posture and body mechanics in unhealthy ways. Kenneth K. Hansraj, MD, the Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, created a computer model of the cervical spine that showed how use of mobile devices directly contributes to neck strain. In an article published in Surgical Technology International, Dr. Hansraj, MD, showed that neck strain increases as the forward angle of the head increases, as it does when you look down at your cell phone or tablet. As you tilt your head, you round your shoulders, another aspect of poor posture. All this excess strain creates extra wear and tear on the structures of the neck, upper spine and back, and can lead to spinal degeneration that may require surgery.
Body Mechanics and Prevention Tips
Good posture and positioning is especially important when you are bending over, squatting, and when you are lifting things. You should avoid twisting your body when lifting boxes or other items. But it also is crucial to maintain good posture while standing and sitting. With people spending increasing amounts of time at work, it is even more important to create a good ergonomic working arrangement to protect your spine. Over time, poor sitting posture and workplace ergonomics can damage spinal structures and contribute to recurrent or chronic neck and back pain.
The other place people spend a large portion of their time is in bed. This makes it crucial to have a mattress that allows you to have a supportive and restful sleep. A good mattress maintains the same natural spinal alignment you have when standing and can help prevent back pain.
Eat Well and Exercise Regularly
The diet and exercise choices you make can help you protect your spine. By strengthening the muscles supporting your vertebrae, exercise can help prevent back pain and neck pain. Flexibility training, strength training, and aerobic exercise are all part of a healthy exercise routine, and each type of exercise contributes to spinal health. Good nutrition also is essential to helping us feel our best and reach our optimal health. Exercise and a healthy diet also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is another way to help ensure your spine is not overstrained.
Smoking, Your Brain, Chronic Back Pain, and Bone Health
Another lifestyle choice that is detrimental to spine health is cigarette smoking. Researchers from Northwestern University conducted a study showing that smokers are three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop chronic back pain. “Smoking affects the brain,” according to scientist Bogdan Petre, who led the study, which was published online in the journal Human Brain Mapping. “We found that it affects the way the brain responds to back pain and seems to make individuals less resilient to an episode of pain.”
Smoking also reduces bone density, which increases the risk for osteoporosis and other degenerative spine conditions, and it can reduce the success of spinal fusion. People who are facing fusion or any spine surgery should make every effort to stop smoking. This will decrease the associated risks and increase the likelihood of a successful spinal fusion surgery.
Look through the SpineUniverse Wellness Center for easier, quick, and useful tips to help keep your back and neck pain free.
Hansrag KK. Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Neuro and Spine Surgery. Surgical Technology International XXV. #593 Hansrag, Final.
Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 Collaborators. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet. 2015; 386:743-800.
Spain E. Smoking is a pain in the back. Smokers with new back pain less likely to recover, likely to develop chronic pain. November 3, 2015. http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2014/11/smoking-is-a-pain-in-the-back.html#sthash.oj1Koirh.dpuf. Accessed November 12, 2015.
Canale ST, Kelly FB, Daugherty K. Smoking threatens orthopaedic outcomes. Negative effects should prompt orthopaedists to address the issue with patients. AAOS Now.
June 2012 Issue. http://www.aaos.org/news/aaosnow/jun12/cover2.asp. Accessed November 12, 2015.