Months of warm, glorious sun draw us outdoors to enjoy the weather, but those same months can be tough on the back. Here are four tips for back care to keep in mind this time of year, from Byron Stephens II, M.D., a spine surgeon caring for active people at Vanderbilt Bone & Joint, in Franklin, Tenn.
1. Prevent back pain in the garden.
Thanks to the April showers that poured down on Nashville, we are graced with an abundance of May flowers. Gardening and lawn work is a great physical activity that gives us the opportunity to enjoy the sun and be productive in our yards on the weekends.
However, if you have back and neck pain, avoid doing too much strenuous work in one session. It’s better to divide big tasks into smaller steps to avoid overdoing it, Stephens advises. Also, take regular breaks while bending and stooping so that you can avoid severe muscle pain that comes with doing a sudden burst of work that your muscles are unaccustomed to.
Ask your doctor about whether it makes sense for you to wear a back support brace when working in the yard or doing other hard physical work. Back braces can be appropriate in some cases, Stephens said, but he warned that if a brace is used too often, it can actually discourage the core strength that ultimately allows you to function without back pain.
2. Try icing as back pain treatment.
When it’s hot out, instead of your heating pad, take breaks from your activities to put ice on your back or neck for 20 minutes, Stephens said, to cool down and relax those achy muscle spasms. (Do not put ice directly on skin; wrap in a cloth or use an icepack with a cloth cover.) To get the full benefit of icing, you must endure the 3 phases:
- A burning sensation;
3. Safety first.
Did you know that July is the month of the year when the most spinal cord injuries due to motor vehicle accidents are reported? So if barbequing and sharing in summertime parties with friends and family are on your calendar for the coming months, be sure to have a great time safely and responsibly. Don’t drink and drive. It could save a life or a spine.
4. Play in the pool.
If you’re looking for a refreshing activity to get you out of the steamy gym this summer, then splash into an exercise regimen that involves swimming. Swimming is a perfect summertime exercise that becomes accessible to more of us as pools open up for the season. Swimming is the ideal exercise for lower back pain because it is low-impact. Plus, it combines strengthening of your back extension and core muscles, leg toning and cardiovascular conditioning all in a cool and refreshing atmosphere.
If you’re not a strong swimmer, an alternative is walking laps in the swimming pool. The water provides more resistance than air, so walking in the pool burns more calories — and works your core muscles harder — than walking on the sidewalk. Also, Stephens recommends water aerobics classes: “These are often offered in the shallow end of the pool, where most people can stand up.” These group classes can burn calories, tone muscle and improve balance — and the water feels good on a hot summer day.
Not only will you look great this summer, but your back will also thank you.