For a lot of people, their 30s are when responsibilities build up: careers advance, spouses and children often come into the picture, all things that chip away at the time you once had to devote to yourself and your fitness.
That means, unlike your 20s, you may be more likely to get injured because you aren’t as active. Your loss of muscle tone can be subtle, and can leave you open to injury from even simple, everyday actions.
One of the most common injuries of your 30s? Lower back pain. And the culprits? Bad posture and a weak core.
As part of our continuing series on avoiding injury as you age, we spoke again with physical therapist Tim Varughese, manager of clinical services at OhioHealth McConnell Heart Health Center. He shares some simple steps and exercises you can use to keep your posture in check and get your back to the future.
Beware the chair
“We see a lot of low back pain in 30-year-olds,” says Varughese, “especially in people who work behind a desk or a steering wheel.” He says when you spend lot of time sitting, your core strength and hip strength start to slide, and bad posture sets in. “Hunched shoulders and slouching put your spine in a flexed position. When you stay in that position for too long, muscle fatigue creeps in, even if you don’t realize it,” says Varughese. “Then, a simple move like bending over to pick up a piece of paper causes you to injure yourself. And it wasn’t the bending over in the moment that caused your injury, it was the weeks of bad posture and declining muscle tone.”
Varughese says women who have recently had children are also at risk for low back pain. “During pregnancy, your balance changes and your ligaments loosen. Your sacroiliac joint also loosens in preparation for childbirth. The instability caused by these changes can put new moms at risk for injury, particularly when you add in the weight of a newborn. You’re doing a lot of bending, sitting awkwardly on the edge of beds or couches, holding and rocking your baby, picking her up off the floor … all these moves can be challenging when you have a weakened core.”
Bent out of shape
“You also have to watch the position of your back when you’re doing physical work. That includes simple activities like folding laundry or preparing a meal. Even brushing your teeth bent over the sink is a bad idea,” says Varughese. He says if your body mechanics are off, and your spine is flexed more than it should be for a long period of time, then the weight of your upper body, the loads you are moving, even twisting at the waist can put your back in danger.
Set yourself straight
“Aches and pains are a signal of a larger problem,” says Varughese. “It’s one thing to be sore after a day of yard work or a home improvement project. But if you’re experiencing prolonged soreness, and you’re inactive or seated most of the day, that’s a sign of a situation that needs addressed to avoid future injury.” He offers these tips:
When you’re setting up your work space, start with your chair.
Adjust your chair so that you’re sitting upright with your feet flat on the floor. If you’re typing, your keyboard should be at lap level. Once your body is in a comfortable position, then adjust your monitor height and keyboard height, not the other way around.
If you’re working while standing, choose higher surfaces.
The further you stand away from a counter, and the lower it is, the more tension your place on your lower back. Work upright and unbent, and turn your body using your feet rather than twisting your back.
Take a walk break every hour.
It’s very important to take a brief walk once an hour and use that opportunity to reposition your body. For every hour of sitting, you should take a five-minute walk break. Take advantage of wearable technology or reminders on your phone, so you don’t forget.
Strengthen your lower back with yoga poses.
Add some core strength training to your routine.
Lift heavy loads properly.
Make sure the load you’re lifting is right at your feet. Squat and keep your spine straight as you lift with your legs.
Don’t rely on a back brace.
Wearing lumbar support may be a requirement for your job, but these belts are no replacement for good core strength. Make sure you focus on core strengthening exercises when you’re not wearing supports.
Get a good mattress and good sleep.
If you’re waking up with a sore back every morning, but feel better later, it may be time to shop for a new mattress. Spine alignment during sleep is very important. Don’t choose a mattress that lets your hips sink too low. Sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs to keep your spine in a neutral position.
If you’re having pain, OhioHealth sports medicine physicians and physical therapists can help pinpoint your issues and get you on a plan to better health. Browse the wellness services at McConnell Heart Health Center or talk with your primary care doctor about starting a fitness plan.