Preventing Back and Neck Pain
Last updated: Aug 31, 2011
By Joy Pierce Mathews for Summit Medical Group
About Back and Neck Pain
Many people experience upper back and neck pain. It can be caused from a traumatic event such as a fall or motor vehicle accident. But repetitive use from common activities like working on a computer, talking on the phone, using office machines, sitting at a desk, and riding in a car for many hours also can cause your back and neck to be stiff and sore.
There are some simple steps you can take to help prevent neck injury from overuse. First, examine your daily routine and be aware of postures/positions that might contribute to stiffness and pain. If you discover you are hunching over, twisting your back, or staying in the same position for long periods, make a point of sitting up and keeping your back straight. Changing your position often, including standing up, taking a walk, and stretching gently are good ways to avoid stiffness.
If you sit in a chair for long periods, be sure it fits you well and supports your lower, middle, and upper back. Be sure your legs are bent at a 90° angle. Sit up straight and avoid hunching over your desk or keyboard. You should use the same approach when sitting in your car.
When sitting at a computer, be sure the screen is at eye level. Keep your keyboard at waist level, with your elbows bent at a 90° angle so your arms are parallel with your thighs. This approach will keep your wrists straight and from bending too high or too low. Keeping your wrists straight can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
If you file papers or use a scanner, stand up straight instead of hunching over the machines.
Use a speaker or headset when talking on the phone so that you aren't tempted to use your neck and chin to hold the phone. Headsets are a great for helping you sit up straight.
At night, be sure your pillow supports your neck and keeps it straight. Your mattress should be firm enough to support your spine, with only slight give in the very top layer.
Lifting heavy objects and performing activities that require you to twist and turn often also can cause a sore neck and back. If they are part of your work routine, be sure to follow these tips on proper lifting:
- Consider how best to lift the object
- Ask someone or others to help if the object is heavy
- Discuss and agree on your plan with your helpers before you begin
- Clear the path you need before you begin moving the object
- Wear a back brace or back belt for support
- Keep the object close to your body for stability and strength
- Do not lift the object above your shoulders
- Be sure you have a firm hold on the object at all times
- Keep your feet no more than shoulder-width apart to establish a firm base
- Bend your knees while raising and lowering the object
- Raise and lower the object with your leg muscles rather than your back muscles
- Keep your stomach muscles tight to help support your back
- Keep your eyes focused upward to avoid the tendency to bend the back
- Take small steps
- Avoid twisting your back — keep your spine, shoulders, and hips straight
- Lift and moveslowly and carefully
- Stop and get more help if you feel your back straining!
Most back pain improves with simple steps you can take on your own, including resting your back, avoiding activities that irritate it, and taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help alleviate the pain. Continuous, intense back pain, however, might mean you have permanently damaged your discs or nerves. Be sure to see your doctor if your back pain, however mild or severe, lasts more than a few weeks without improvement. He or she can help identify the cause of the pain and recommend ways to resolve it or prevent it from worsening.
Signs of a serious back and neck problem can include:
- A fever
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty urinating
- Difficulty with bowel movements
- Pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in one or both legs
- Numbness or tingling in the groin, anal region, and buttocks
- Throbbing abdominal pain
- Unintended weight loss
When your back pain is the result of a serious problem that doesn’t respond to therapies such as rest, cold compresses, gentle stretching and exercise, you might need surgery to alleviate pressure on the nerves from a herniated disk or narrowed spinal column (spinal stenosis), compression fracture of the spine, or a severe spinal injury.
To learn more or schedule an appointment for ongoing back or neck pain,
please call Summit Medical Group Physiatry today
To learn more about strengthening and best practices for your back,
please call Summit Medical Group Physical Therapy today at 908-277-8936.