Proper lifting techniques and chiropractic care for back health

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on healthy back and shoulders. Part 1 was published in the May 22 Empire.

Back pain and injury are common reasons that cause many people seek medical attention.

In part one of this series on back and shoulder health, massage therapists Rebecca Albert of A Dance of Hands Massage and Judy Macnak at Sacred Forest Healing Arts shared an array of advice that included good posture, physical activity, and massage therapy. This second part explores chiropractic care as another complementary medical therapy for back and shoulder health.

Chiropractors are popularly known as “back doctors” who address pain and other issues using chiropractic adjustments and other techniques to manipulate the muscular, skeletal, and nervous system.

According to Dr. Steve Messerschmidt of Aurora Chiropractic Center in Juneau, “Chiropractic care is a growing field that addresses whole body health by working with the biomechanics of the spine and nervous system. The nervous system plays a huge role in our bodies’s functioning, so maintaining proper alignment in the spine is crucial to good health.”

Treatment at chiropractic clinics includes chiropractic adjustments that relieve pain, promote healing, restore function to the injured site, and reduce the likelihood of reinjury. Some clinics, like Aurora Chiropractic, offer services such as orthotic fittings and nutritional therapy as well.

“Sometimes people come in with back pain due to trauma such as car accidents. Other times, pain is caused from years of poor posture, which adds to wear and tear on the body,” said Dr. Doug Jones, another chiropractor at Aurora Chiropractic Center. “Some come in for a regular check-up because we can detect misalignments in the spine before back pain even occurs.”

The chiropractors said people can develop simple habits for good back health. For instance, they agree with the massage therapists that movement is critical.

“A large national study examined truck drivers who took a break every half an hour to get out of the vehicle, walk around, and stretch. These drivers significantly reduced the incidence of back pain compared with those who didn’t take a break,” said Jones.

More studies are finding sitting puts more pressure on the spine than standing, so frequent breaks to move around are recommended for anyone who spends the majority of the day sitting, whether at a desk or behind the wheel, take frequent breaks to move around. Some workplaces allow for desks to be raised so working at the computer requires a person to be standing up rather than sitting down.

If you must sit, it is important to avoid being frozen in one position and staring ahead for too long. An easy exercise is to slowly turn the head to the right, forward, left, and forward while maintaining good posture. This mini-break can reduce stiffness in the neck and shoulders.

Improper lifting is another major cause of back injury. Perhaps lifting an object once or twice may not cause noticeable pain or injury. However, incorrect lifting over time can cause “microtraumas” to the spine which then can lead to chronic pain or severe back injury.

“When lifting a heavy object, it’s important to keep the object as close to the core as possible. Avoid twisting while you are lifting,” said Jones.

When lifting something, take the time to stabilize the heavy object in a position close to your body before moving in another direction. If bending to pick up an object, bend from the knees and not from the waist in order to let the legs help do the lifting. Jones points out lifting a pound can translate into several pounds of pressure on the spinal column, so the act of twisting while holding a heavy object can strain the back. It is also important to remember good lifting technique when reaching up to move heavy objects heavy objects located above the head, such as an item on a high shelf or even luggage in the overhead compartment of a plane.

“For something above your head, face it with your body and bring it to your chest first. Grasp it firmly. Then, keep it close to the core of your body before moving it in another direction,” advised Jones.

Even better, find a stepping stool or a secure ladder so that the object is at shoulder height in order to put less stress on the back, he said.

Jones also recommends for people to do daily exercises that strengthen the body’s core muscles. These muscles support the spinal column, which ultimately affects the functioning of the whole skeletal system. Exercise increases blood circulation to the joints, which more effectively delivers nutrients, energy, and oxygen to the muscles, nerves, and bones.

“Good back health for some people means full range of motion. Injury and age can cause reduced range of motion, but this doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing the activities that you enjoy,” said Jones. It is always recommended for patients to work with their chiropractor or medical professional on choosing exercises and modifying activities that meet their current health conditions.

Jones and Messerschmidt both observed that pain or injury can diminish a person’s motivations to be active.

“The worst thing for back health is to quit moving,” emphasized Messerschmidt. “Movement is necessary to keep the muscles strong.” Lack of movement weakens the muscles, and can increase the likelihood of further injury or pain. Instead, finding ways to keep active throughout the day, everyday, and all year long will be the key to good back health.

For more information about spine health and chiropractic health, visit www.akspine.com

• Nu is a freelance writer in Juneau. She can be contacted at jennu.jnu@gmail.com

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