Take Care of Your Back

Studies have shown that disc degeneration can occur in children as young as 12. Surprisingly, over 80% of adolescents experience back pain. Perhaps it is not so surprising when we consider the time many of them spend bent in a ‘C’ shape over a computer or a mobile phone.

Some simple strategies can be adopted to help reduce years of unnecessary accumulated strain on your back and improve the quality of your life.

Sit Tall

Many of us end up slumping throughout the day, compressing the spinal joints and causing excessive wear and tear. Sit with your knees slightly lower than your hips and with your feet resting flat on the ground.

Stand Tall

Stand tall from the crown of your head and gently tuck your chin in as though you are holding a soft apricot under it. Imagine you are growing tall by separating each vertebra in your spine.

Walk Tall

Make yourself wide across the collarbones and gently press your shoulder blades down towards the opposite hip pocket. Your rib cage should sit directly over your pelvis without flaring of the ribs.

Sitting and Standing

When we stand tall with good erect posture, approximately 100% of our body weight is directed through the low back area. When we sit with good, erect posture this is increased to over 130%.

This is because we lose some of the natural curve of the lower back. There is more body weight directed through the front of the vertebrae.

If we sit in a slouched posture, with the knees higher than the hips, this pressure can rise to 300% or more of your body weight. Have you noticed that prolonged sitting often makes your back pain worse?

When sitting for any length of time, you should;

  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Use a backrest or lumbar support to help maintain the neutral spine position.
  • Get up often and change the posture you have been in. This helps reduce the stress and strain.

Bending Over

When bending, do so from the hips and knees, but keep your back straight and try to keep the neutral curve of your spine
The deep stabilising muscles that protect your back, work best when this neutral position is maintained as you bend forward.

Bend from the hips and not the waist. This allows your trunk to move forward so you can reach with your arms to the floor without straining your back.

Twisting is a normal movement, however, with a heavy load it can cause shearing forces on the spinal joints and accelerate joint wear and tear.
A disc bulge is frequently the result of pushing or pulling a heavy load and then twisting in a bent position to manoeuvre that load.

Always carry the load close to your body. The weight transmitted to your spine when you lift and carry is not just the weight of the object, but that weight multiplied by the length of your outstretched arms and body from the point of the lift, this is called the ‘lever arm.’

When vacuuming or raking leaves – move your feet more so you are able to do the work with your arms in front of you. Try not to plant your feet and cover a wide arc by over-reaching with your arms. Using short arm strokes and moving your feet will avoid the need to bend and twist your back.

Avoid bending and twisting with a heavy load!

If you must lift something heavy – widen your base of support by spreading your feet apart. If you can’t tip the load with your hands before lifting it then you need to get help!


Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Try twisting and bending one of your fingers – it may not hurt immediately but after a few minutes the joints will become sore from the compaction of the joint and strain of the surrounding soft tissues. This is what happens to the joints of your spine especially if you lie in that position for hours.

When lying on your back with knees slightly bent there is approximately 25% of your body weight transmitted through your lumbar spine. When lying on your side with your knees slightly bent there is around 75% of your body weight transmitted. These positions are preferable, and so is a medium to firm mattress that has no sags in it. Turn your mattress over and around every few months to lengthen the life of the mattress.

General exercise such as walking, cycling and swimming will all help to improve your general strength and fitness.

Sit tall. Walk tall. Stand tall. Think tall thoughts!

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About the Author

Jennifer Kellett established Hawker Place Physiotherapy in 1991 and is the principal practitioner of the family run practice. Jenny has served the local communities of Belconnen and North Canberra with commitment and pride for over 26 years. She is a strong advocate for maintaining fitness, health and well being across all age groups and has a keen professional interest in combining Pilates with weight training for treating postmenopausal women at risk of osteoporosis.

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