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Protecting Your Back

Back pain is often in the muscles and ligaments that support the spine. It’s important to know what kinds of exertion, postures and lifestyle choices create too much strain on your back. Use the tools and strategies listed below to assist in keeping your back healthy.


Exercise >

walking in woodsHealth care professionals agree, staying active is the best method to prevent back pain and reduce symptoms for back pain sufferers. Check out the Getting Active tab to learn about the benefits of different physical activities.

Sitting >

ergonomic chairSit up with your back straight and shoulders back. Your bottom should touch the back of your chair.

Bend your knees at a 90 degree angle. Keep your knees even with or slightly higher than your hips (use a foot rest or stool if necessary). Try to avoid crossing your legs.

Keep your feet flat on the floor.

Avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes (e.g. legs crossed).

When behind a computer at work, adjust your chair height and desk so you can sit up close to your computer screen and tilt it up at you. Rest your arms and elbows on your chair or desk and relax your shoulders.

If sitting at a rolling chair, avoid twisting at the waist while sitting. Instead, turn your entire body.

Standing >

standing workerStand with weight mostly on the balls of the feet, rather than the heels.

Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart.

Avoid tensing your arms. Let them hang naturally down the sides of the body.

Try to avoid locking the knees. 
Avoid pushing your head out forward beyond your neck and spine.

If standing for a long period of time, transfer weight from one foot to the other or rock from heels to toes. Try standing against a wall, making sure your shoulders, bottom and back of the head are touching the wall.

Sleeping >

man sleepingMake an effort to sleep on your side or back as these positions are generally more comfortable than sleeping on your stomach (due to the curving of the spine for the latter).

Use a pillow to provide proper support and alignment for your head and shoulders.

If sleeping on your backside, consider putting a rolled-up towel under your neck and a pillow under your knees to better support the spine.

If sleeping on your side, place a flat pillow between your legs to help keep your spine aligned and straight.

Lifting and Carrying >

boxesGet as close to the load or object as possible, as if you’re hugging the object. Having the object close to your body puts less force on your lower back.

Always bend at the knees, rather than the waist.

Tighten your stomach muscles, as this helps support your spine. Don't hold your breath while tightening your muscles.

Keep any heavy or large objects close to the chest while carrying them.

Switch the load between arms frequently.

When carrying a backpack or purse, it should be no more than 10 to 15 per cent of your body weight. Balance the weight on both sides as much as possible or alternate from side to side. A backpack that is improperly carried places strain on the shoulders and causes you to lean backward. To compensate, individuals generally lean forward at the hips, making the spine compress unnaturally after prolonged periods of time. This increases the potential for shoulder and back injuries.

Driving >

driving in carSit with your back firmly against the seat.

The seat should be positioned at a distance that does not require leaning forward or reaching for the pedals and steering wheel.

The headrest should support the middle of your head. The distance between your head and the headrest should be no more than four inches.

Travelling Tips >

suitcase with wheelsMaintain correct posture. While driving, pull the seat as close to the steering wheel as is comfortable. Your back should rest against the seat and your knees should be bent at a 90 degree angle.

Use support. Place a small pillow or folded towel behind your lower back to relieve tension and reinforce proper posture.

Contract and release muscles. Tighten and release your muscles, starting at your legs and moving to your shoulders to improve circulation.

Don’t sit for more than an hour without taking a break. Walk down the aisle of the airplane to get blood moving. Be sure to make use of rest stops if driving and walk around your car several times.

Load and unload the car with care. To decrease the chance of injury, avoid bending, lifting or twisting at the same time. When unloading, stand as close to the trunk as possible. Lift the luggage with your arms kept close to your body, and bend with your knees rather than your lower back.

Use a suitcase with rollers. Avoiding the strain of lifting a heavy bag can prevent injury. When pulling a suitcase with rollers, keep your arm straight and close to the body.

Sleep on a soft surface. If camping, use a foam pad or blow-up mattress to prevent discomfort caused by sleeping directly on the ground.

Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps body parts function at their optimum.

Wear a backpack properly. Use a backpack with two straps around your shoulders and one around your waist. Distribute weight evenly in the backpack to prevent strain by putting heavier objects near your back and light objects near the outside of the bag.

Wear athletic shoes. While hiking or sightseeing, make sure to wear shoes that fit comfortably and provide arch support.

Nutrition and Weight Control >

apple with a nutrition labelMaintaining a healthy weight is one way to avoid back pain. Another is to watch what––not just how much––we eat.

When it comes to prevention, weight is an important factor, as any excess puts strain on your lower back.

Eat foods that promote an ideal body weight. This includes lean protein sources, which not only help with weight control, but also with muscle rebuilding and improving muscle strength.

Foods that may actually increase some of the chemicals responsible for inflammation (which is the cause of most back pain):





Foods that are helpful in alleviating nerve pain:




These vegetables, like most dark leafy greens, contain high vitamin B content, which can help ease nerve pain. They also increase serotonin production, the hormone that makes us ‘happy’, which can also ease the side effects of back pain.

Pineapple, papayas and kiwi contain enzymes that help break down the capsule that forms around an acute injury. This allows nutrients into that area and eases pain.

Carrots hold antioxidants that help protect healthy tissue around the area of inflammation.

Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory.

Source: Canadian Living Magazine, provided by Balance Television guests Dr. Stephen Reed and Penny Kendall-Reed, co-authors of The Complete Doctor's Healthy Back Bible.

Stress Management >

relaxationEmotional response to stress can differ from person to person. Some people become depressed, irritable or angry when they’re under stress. Commonly, many people experience anxiety and with anxiety comes an increased likelihood of back pain. In turn, the pain can contribute to increased anxiety and the stressful cycle continues.

Many stress reduction techniques can help you deal with stress constructively and reduce the chances of experiencing pain.

Stress-reducing techniques include deep breathing, massage therapy, developing a hobby, playing with a pet or speaking with a counselor. The technique you select is not important; what counts is that you do something to work through your stress.

Ergonomics >

keyboardErgonomics is a long word for a simple concept—taking body mechanics into account when determining how a job should be done to reduce stress on the body. Although there are many settings that can be modified, the following tips can help you create environments that are comfortable and hopefully pain-free!

Office Ergonomics

Many people spend a good portion of their hours sitting at a desk or working with a computer. Over time, this can become painful if you don't take steps to properly set up a workstation that works with your body rather than against it.

Creating an ergonomic workstation is easier than you might think and the benefits are tremendous. These tips assist in making your workstation more ergonomic and possibly even more productive.


Work area: When setting up a work area, make sure that the space is large enough for you to spread out comfortably and allows for a full range of motions. You should also leave plenty of room to arrange the items you use most frequently in such a way that there is no strain for you to reach them.

Keyboard: Your keyboard should be placed so that your arms are parallel to your thighs. If your desk doesn't allow for this, try getting a keyboard tray. Keep your wrists elevated and avoid hitting the keys too hard.

Mouse: Ensure your mouse is within easy reach and avoid gripping it too tightly.

Desk: As there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all desk, you can help reduce your chance of injury by getting a document holder, arranging your electronics within your reach and keeping the area underneath your desk cleared and uncluttered.

Chair: Sitting is much harder on your back than it appears to be, so it is imperative to have a comfortable and supportive chair. Make sure to keep your lower back supported and adjust your chair so that you can easily access your keyboard and mouse. If your feet don't quite reach the floor, get a footrest to prevent your feet from dangling.

Monitor: Adjust your monitor so it is centered in front of you at a comfortable distance and adjust the brightness settings so that it’s easy on your eyes. Make sure to take breaks from staring at your screen and if glare is a problem, use a glass glare filter.

Lighting: General office lighting can cause eyestrain and make it difficult to see what’s on your monitor. Adjust your personal lighting (e.g. desk lamps) as much as you can to reduce glare. Position your monitor at an angle to light sources that reduces reflection. Use a desk lamp for close work.

Work habits: You can arrange your work habits so that you don’t put undue stress on any part of your body. Make sure to take frequent breaks, get up and walk around and change positions frequently so that repetitive tasks and static work won't take their tolls.

Source: HR World Editors,

Office Ergonomics booklet. The introduction of an office ergonomics program is a small but significant step toward reducing work injury in the office. This booklet contains suggestions to help get you started.

English PDF / French PDF



Pregnancy >

walking in woodsMost people suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. Unfortunately for women, you can expect that day to come sooner when you’re expecting. With the added weight of a pregnant belly causing more strain on your back, it’s important to take the necessary precautions and give your back some TLC. Gentle activities, such as walking or swimming, are great ways to keep your back and baby happy. But make sure you talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your back pain.

snap shots of activities

Building habits you can stick with for a lifetime is key.

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