Rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes contribute to back pain—and so can other things. Find out what they are and how to nip pain in the bud!
If you've been through a bout of back pain lately, you’ve got plenty of company. In fact, if back pain were a disease, it would be an epidemic—some 80% of us struggle with it sooner or later, especially if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) of the spine or hip. What's worse, once the ouch strikes, it has a nasty habit of sneaking up on you again…unless you learn how to outsmart it. Here, how to give four notorious back busters the boot!
1. Back buster: smoking
You know it’s bad for your heart and lungs—but your back too? Yep! The carbon monoxide in smoke adheres to hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of blood, making it harder for oxygen to reach and nourish the muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons in your back. As a result, smokers are nearly three times more likely to develop low back pain as nonsmokers.
Back booster: quitting now for a fast reward
Only 48 hours after putting out that last cigarette, nerve endings in the back start to regrow as a result of increased blood flow. If you can’t quit cold turkey, cut back: Fewer cigarettes can help restore blood flow to the back, lessening the risk of more back pain. For support, try joining a free online forum such as quitnet.com and whyquit.com.
2. Back buster: overstuffed backpacks
They force you to hunch forward, stick your head out like a turtle or, if you use only one strap, favor one side while walking—no wonder your neck, shoulders and back are sore!
Back booster: tons of compartments
Opt for lightweight backpacks that have lots of compartments to help distribute weight evenly, and use both straps instead of slinging just one over a shoulder. Make sure the pack sits in the middle of your back and secure the waist belt, which takes some of the burden off your spine.
Kid-safety tip: Make sure your little one’s backpack doesn’t weigh more than 15% of his or her total weight. So if your child weighs 60 pounds, the bag should be no heavier than 9 pounds.
3. Back buster: bad body mechanics
Have you ever noticed that your back feels better if you straighten up after slouching for a while? That’s because the many tendons, ligaments and muscles supporting the back have to literally go out of their way to keep you balanced when your posture is poor.
Back booster: good posture
You’ve surely heard this tip before: Pretend your body is hanging by a string, perfectly aligned, with your shoulders relaxed, your abdomen and buttocks tucked under, your knees relaxed and your feet parallel.
But to find out how your posture really stacks up, try this test: Stand against a wall and slip your hand between the wall and the small of your back. If it’s a perfect fit, congrats—you’re standing nice and tall. Anything else—too much or too little space—means your posture needs some attention. Also, keep in mind that maintaining the same position for too long, whether sitting or standing, also puts a strain on your back. So be sure to take frequent breaks—say, one or two minutes—at least every half hour.
4. Back buster: back muscles deteriorate
The older you get and the less you exercise, the more likely it is that these key back-supporting muscles will let you down.
Your abs, your buttocks muscles and the extensor muscles in your back support the spine, so making these stronger and more flexible is key. And don’t think you have to work up a sweat!
Here’s an exercise to try while sitting or standing: Pull your belly button in toward your back. This forces you to use your abdominal muscles, automatically forcing you to sit or stand straighter. Or try low-impact aerobic activities like walking or swimming. Avoid activities like tennis, weight lifting, running and aerobic dance that could hurt your back because they require twisting, lifting or pounding.