Four out of five adults will experience significant low back pain sometime during their lives. It is the second most common cause of lost workdays among adults less than 45 years of age. Clients will often seek help from alternative medicines, including chiropractors, before consulting a physician or occupational therapist (Pendleton & Schultz-Krohn, 2006). Occupational therapists are skilled healthcare workers focused on helping clients be independent in all aspects of life. A key element of occupational therapy (OT) is to prevent further pain or injury by modifying or adapting activities. Part of helping clients with low back pain includes education in good body mechanics and energy conservation as a way to modify activities. Intervening before pain becomes chronic is very important because “…long-standing pain could create vicious circles and chronic pain as a result…” (Rosenwax, Semmens, & Holman, 2001, p. 185). Several tips OTs give to clients to prevent low back pain during daily activities will be provided. These are helpful for all individuals who want to decrease the risk of low back pain and injury in the future.
Low back pain starts with a single and sudden injury or is a process occurring over time (Rosenwax, et al., 2001). Occupational therapists are useful resources and may provide education to help decrease low back pain and keep and healthy back. They use the principles of body mechanics and energy conservation when educating.
1. Maintain a straight back and do not hunch over.
2. Bend from the hips, not the back.
3. Avoid twisting during activities. Rather, turn as a unit while keeping the spine in its natural and comfortable position.
4. Maintain good posture. In other words, make sure the head is facing forward chin parallel to the floor, ears are parallel with the shoulders, and arms at the sides.
5. Carry objects close to the body. Heavy objects, especially, are more hazardous when they are carried far from the body (Pendleton & Schultz-Krohn, 2006).
6. Lift objects with the legs to be safe because the legs are much stronger than the back (Pendleton & Schultz-Krohn, 2006). Also, do not be afraid to lift because it is not recommended to stay in bed constantly when in pain. In contrast, light activity is more likely to boost the repair process (Rosenwax, et al., 2001).
7. Use a wide base of support. This means to make sure the feet are shoulder width apart.
8. Reduce back stress while standing. This may be done by using a small stool or opening a cabinet door and resting a foot inside the base (Pendleton & Schultz-Krohn, 2006).
These concepts of body mechanics are simple to understand and do not require extra equipment or money to accomplish. Using energy conservation principles in addition to good body mechanics may also help with low back pain.
Occupational therapists understand that clients have busy lives, but their backs may be suffering because of it. The principles of energy conservation may help reduce these problems.
1. Plan ahead- For example, prepare meals ahead of time when you have more energy and reheat those later (Pendleton & Schultz-Krohn, 2006). Also, you could lay out clothes the night before they will be worn.
2. Pace yourself- This requires you to look at the time frame needed to complete the task and the ability to complete it without causing harm. For example, wash the dishes in the morning and vacuum in the evening rather than both in one session (Pendleton & Schultz-Krohn, 2006).
3. Set priorities- This may include going out to dinner with friends instead of preparing a large meal at home. Then, you will not have to prepare, cook, serve, and clean all in one night.
4. Eliminate unnecessary tasks- This can include using disposable dinnerware for guests instead of dishes that create extra work.
5. Balance activity with rest- For instance, use a stool and sit while preparing food to rest your back.
6. Learn your activity tolerance- This means knowing how much activity you can bear and the amount of rest needed for recovery. This way, it will not fatigue the back too much (Pendleton & Schultz-Krohn, 2006).
Too many adults are experiencing low back pain when it may be preventable. Occupational therapists are valuable healthcare practitioners who provide education to clients to decrease the incidence of low back pain. Part of the education includes providing tips about body mechanics and energy conservation as a way to modify everyday activities. These tips are useful to prevent the start and recurrence of low back pain. Also, using them after an injury will help break the vicious cycle of chronic pain (Rosenwax, et al., 2001). Now you are able incorporate these simple tips into everyday life.
Pendleton, H. & Schultz-Krohn, W. (Eds.). (2006). Pedretti’s occupational therapy: practice skills for physical dysfunction. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier
Rosenwax, L., Semmens, J., & Holman, C. (2001). Is occupational therapy in danger of ‘ad-hocery’? An application of evidence-based guidelines to the treatment of low back pain. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, (48)4, 181-186.