Tips on how to keep your spine healthy and prevent injury
Although back pain is quite common in our society, there’s good news. There is a lot we can do to avoid pain and injury caused by poor mechanics, awkward posture, overexertion and repetitive motion. Dino Bolos, PT, an NCH Physical Therapist who helps patients with back pain, says practicing good body mechanics, including keeping a neutral spine (when all three curves of the spine are in good alignment) is essential to preventing injury.
In therapy, we always educate our patients on proper mechanics to keep the load on the spine very low,” Bolos explains. “We show our patients how to find what is called a ‘neutral spine’ position during lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling to minimize the risk of injury.”
Core strengthening is important, he adds. “We need our abdominal and back muscles to all be engaged properly to maintain a neutral spine position during activity.”
Be mindful of overexertion, using caution when moving heavy loads of laundry, furniture, bags of dirt in the garden or luggage, for example. Get help or use a device such as a dolly or cart whenever possible. Try not to repeat the same activity over and over.
“It’s best to alternate tasks that use different motions and muscle groups to avoid muscle imbalances,” Bolos says, adding that you should work several different muscle groups on various machines at the health club instead of keeping to one or two machines.
Posture plays a huge and underappreciated role in back pain, Bolos says. “We can work our core and stretch an hour a day every morning, but if we then go to our desk job and sit in a poor posture for eight hours, back pain will eventually develop.”
He recommends sitting or standing in neutral spine position. If it’s too late and you’ve already developed back pain from slouching over the years or repeated posture patterns such as mothers who carry their infants or toddlers on one hip, Bolos suggests getting a thorough posture assessment.
“I can quickly tell which muscle groups will likely be stiff and tight and which ones will be weak and elongated by doing a thorough posture assessment,” he says.
Low back pain can incorporate a wide variety of symptoms from mild to severe and debilitating. It can be localized dull or achy pain, or stinging or burning pain running down the legs or feet with or without numbness or tingling. You may even have muscle spasms in the back, creating sharper, jabbing pain.
Back pain can be treated with medication, injections, physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, yoga and surgery. Physical therapists like Bolos are movement experts who treat pain using movement science. Physical therapy has been shown to reduce the total scope and total cost of care for back pain.
“We are trained to know what ideal and proper movement of muscles and joints looks like and feels like,” Bolos says. “A patient who comes to us with back pain almost always has an underlying movement dysfunction.”
Skilled manual therapy techniques can include myofascial release, joint mobilization or manipulation and a variety of targeted stretches and exercises to reduce the movement dysfunction and restore ideal, pain-free motion.
“Depending on the acuity of the pain, we also incorporate modalities such as electrical stimulation, as needed,” Bolos says.
Physical therapy sessions last 45 minutes and include educating the patient on how to exercise, improve posture and move correctly.
“The therapist-patient relationship is critical,” Bolos says. “Patients are expected to do their home exercises between sessions to be actively involved in their own care. Most people prefer to be in control of their pain in this way versus relying on pain pills or injections.”
Dino Bolos, PT, is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist who works at the NCH Outpatient Center at 3300 Kirchoff Road in Rolling Meadows.
Ready to address back pain?
The NCH Back and Spine Clinic serves patients with back, neck and spine issues. Call 847-618-0850 to make an appointment.
NCH has six physical rehabilitation locations with advanced equipment and trained therapists to serve you. Learn more and make your appointment today by calling 847-618-3550.