Health Tips: Back to basics

Published: February 25, 2012

Thanks to the burden of books and laptops, nowadays even youngsters are at the risk of suffering from back problems.

Teenagers will understand the bane of Greek god Atlas, who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. The burden of books and laptops, borne by school and college-going adolescents, is often overwhelming.

Carrying so much weight every day is not an easy task for students, especially those studying in educational institutions which do not offer lockers. And it’s not just old people who have to endure back problems, nowadays even youngsters are at the risk of suffering from this malady if they are not careful.

It is easier to break bad habits now than to allow them to perpetuate and cause distress later on in life. Packing and purchasing your school bag carefully is one of the first few steps that one can take towards ensuring a healthier back. Refrain from carrying more than 10 percent of what you weigh, for instance, someone weighing 60 kilograms should carry no more than 6 kgs. Wear your backpack over both your shoulders even though it is cooler to sling it over just one. Its straps should be broad and padded and so should be the back of the bag. You can also try bags with wheels. Dorky as they may be, they are preferable to messenger bags carried over one shoulder.

Even more central to preventing backaches is posture. Three curves occur naturally in our spine which should be maintained — the outward curve of the neck, the backward curve of the upper back and again the convexity of the lower back. This formation should be maintained while standing, sitting and lying down. Lean against the wall with your head, upper back, and hips making contact with it; you should be able to slide your hand behind your lower back. Since most daily activities are done sitting — at school, in the car, using the computer — it is important that one doesn’t slouch or slump all the time. Feet should be flat on the floor, knees and hips at the same level, hips pressed against the back of the chair. A small towel can be rolled and kept behind the lower back, keeping the shoulders relaxed and a little back and the neck upright. Change your position and repeat stretches every half an hour or so.

Teens who take part in competitive sports have been frequently seen with back injuries. Some sports are better than others for the back. This is not to give the connotation that one is better off being a couch potato as exercise is known to be an important component of the prevention tool kit. One should warm up properly prior to commencing the workout. Proper techniques should be learnt­ — a spotter will help in strength training and one must bend knees when lifting weights. And finally, do not try to ignore the pain.

While all this might be very obvious to few, it might be easier to prevent rather than cure back pain, so kick risky habits while you can.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2012.

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