We sleep more than one-third of our lives. That’s why sleep and rest have such a tremendous influence on our health and our ability to work and play. The sleep we get at night not only restores the connection between nerve cells, it also relaxes the spinal column and gives the intervertebral disc cartilage an opportunity to restore its height and soak up liquids and nutrients.
Your bed must be able to maintain the natural curves of your spinal column. You can think of yourself like Goldilocks visiting the Three Bears. A bed that’s too soft causes misalignment of your spine and your entire back. On the other hand, a surface that’s too hard (the floor or boards, for example) causes straightening of your spinal curvature. This can make you feel like your back is broken.
To make your sleep beneficial, your mattress has to conform to all the concavities and convexities of your body on the one hand, but still be firm enough to provide support on the other hand. It has to be “just right.” A moderately firm orthopedic mattress is considered to be the most appropriate choice. Your bed must also be large enough for you to move freely during your sleep.
A pillow for your head and neck is very important too. To find a pillow that’s the right thickness for you, do the following: Slowly back up to a wall, taking small steps. Stop as soon as your buttocks and shoulder-blades touch the wall. You don’t have to touch the wall with your heels and intentionally straighten your back. Look straight ahead. While in this position, use your hand to measure the approximate distance from the wall to your head. It’s easier to do this if you have someone else help you.
This distance will be your guide to choosing a pillow to put under your head. The pillow you choose should be just that thick. In any case, when you’re selecting a pillow, remember that it must be not very thick. Its main purpose is to fill the space between the mattress and your neck. An orthopedic pillow made of material with “memory” is usually perfect, but many people can’t get used to these kinds of pillows. That’s why traditional pillows that are NOT VERY BIG can also be a good decision. A pillow that is the right size and shape not only supports your head and neck, and improves the circulation of blood to your brain, it also maintains the correct alignment of the entire spine during sleep.
Did you ever think about how important your pillow is? It does so much more than help coordinate the color scheme in your bedroom! It can actually help improve the flow of blood to your brain? Maybe there is another reason the material has a “memory.” If you want to keep a dozen fluffy pillows adorning your bed to express your good taste, great! But keep one for good spine health!
The correct alignment of the body not only promotes restoration and rest for the spine, it can also contribute to its recovery and the elimination of pain syndrome when an acute episode of pain flares up. That is what makes it so important to choose the right position for sleep and for lying down to rest.
RESTING AND SLEEPING ON YOUR BACK
Remember that a pillow under your head takes up space under your neck and the nape of your neck, that’s why it must be not very big. If you need to relax your low back too, you can put a small rolled up towel under your knees. If you suffer from acute pain, another small rolled up towel placed under your lower back will help ease your pain.
RESTING AND SLEEPING ON YOUR SIDE
Many people sleep in the “fetal” position”: on their side, with their legs drawn up to their stomach. This position is good for unborn babies, but not very good for your spine. To make side-lying better, straighten your bottom leg and leave the other one bent at the knee. Placing a small pillow between your legs will make your entire body feel more comfortable.
RESTING AND SLEEPING ON YOUR STOMACH
If you have problems with your cervical spine, or if you’re pregnant, sleeping on your stomach is a bad idea for you. Otherwise, this position can be an excellent way to relax. To make it even more relaxing, put a pillow or a small rolled towel under your feet. This will make your legs bend slightly at the knees, helping you relax even more.
HOW TO LIE DOWN AND GET UP FROM THE BED CORRECTLY
To lie down correctly and without pain, the first step to take is to first sit down on the edge of the bed. Then bend to one side, supporting yourself with your lower hand. Raise both your legs at the same time and put them on the surface of the mattress. Sometimes the elderly or people who are ill or weak can suddenly “fall” into bed, so it is necessary to support them on the way down.
To get up from the bed, go through the same movements in reverse. To avoid dizziness, do not get up on your feet immediately. Sit on the bed for several seconds. Then move to the edge of the bed, place your feet firmly on the floor, and only then stand fully upright. You may rest your hands on your hips while you are doing these moves.
It is easier and less painful for some people to get in bed by climbing up onto the mattress on all fours, and placing their hands and knees on it. To get up, they get on their hands and knees and back down off of the bed as well.
If you have back problems, my advice is to bathe in a shower. This is because it’s so much easier to get into and out off a shower stall or to step behind a curtain, than it is to sit down into a bathtub. If you suffer from intense pain, and a tub bath is your only option, instead of sitting all the way down, stand on one knee after having put a towel under it. By all means, avoid falling in the bathtub or the shower, and avoid making any jerky movements. To do this, use handrails, a non-slip mat for the inside of the shower or tub, and a non-slip rug on the bathroom floor. Any jerky movement, especially falling, will greatly intensify your back pain. You can also install additional handrails or supports in your bathroom.
It is very hard to dress quickly and comfortably, when you have acute back pain. That’s why it’s important to allow enough time to get dressed in the morning. Set your alarm to give you an additional 15 or 30 minutes so you can take your time and avoid rushing. To keep your pain from escalating, choose footwear that is easy to put on and does not need additional fastening. NEVER DRESS YOURSELF OR PUT YOUR SHOES ON SITTING ON THE EDGE OF A BED OR STANDING AND BENDING FORWARD! This position overloads your lower back tremendously! To put on underwear, socks or stockings safely, do it lying on your back. To take off your clothes follow this same advice and use the same position.
If you bow your head and bend your body over a sink or to get closer to a mirror, you will greatly overload your lower back and neck. That’s what makes this position so bad for your back. In the morning, your pain may be especially severe. The blood flow in your muscles and ligaments has not been restored yet and so it’s especially hard to wash your face. To make this easier, lean on the edge of the sink with one hand. This will support your body in a vertical position. If you put one of your feet on a slightly raised support, your spine will be straightened even more and the load will be eliminated. At the worst, if you suffer from acute pain, you can wash your face standing on your knees. In this position your spine will be totally straightened. You will need support to rise from this position.
A hand-held mirror can replace a wall mirror and spare you from having to lean or bend over a sink. When their pain is especially severe, it is easier for many people to sit on a toilet face-forward. This creates additional support and prevents the body from bending and provides relief in getting up from the toilet.
The sitting position places an extreme overload on the lumbar spine. That’s why it’s important to avoid or limit being in a sitting position when you’re having an exacerbation of pain.
During an acute episode of severe pain you must not stay in a sitting position for more than 30 minutes at one time. Choose high-backed chairs and avoid low arm-chairs for sitting. A chair or an arm-chair must have a back that mimics your spinal curvatures. This way, it will support your spine. To make a chair supportive, place a small pillow or a rolled up towel behind the small of your back.
Sitting on a wedge-shaped pillow can also help you. It will straighten the spine and is recommended for anyone who is employed in a sedentary job. You can obtain the same result if you put a pile of books that are the same height under the back legs of a chair. This makes the seat of the chair inclined forward. To sit on the incline, you will have to straighten your body, or you will slide down.
When you cross your knees, your body is curved, and your body weight is transferred. This position is considered to be the farthest from healthy as you can get. This position not only overloads the spine, but also disrupts the circulation of blood in the veins of legs. If you sit on a chair as if you are on horseback, you can transfer your body weight onto its back and unload your spine. To do this, sit on a chair backwards (facing its back) and straddle it.
You can help your work place help your spine if you follow several important rules. These are all very simple and don’t require you or your employer to spend any money. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas! These suggestions may seem strange and awkward at first, just like anything new, but with time, you’ll notice how much less fatigued you feel, in addition to a decrease in your pain level.
Your computer monitor display must be level with your eyes. If your monitor is too low you will end up gradually bending forward and stooping. The font on your monitor’s display must be large. This allows you to avoid unintentionally leaning toward the monitor and it also prevents eye strain. Both feet must be flat on the floor or another supportive surface. Pay attention to your children, too. If their feet are not resting on a supportive surface, they will be leaning over a desk or table to doing their homework.
In my book “Smart Loin” I describe an exercise which is called “Separating a heel from a support” in detail. This position lets you straighten your lower back automatically while sitting; that is without any effort. To do this, raise the heel of one of your feet while leaning on the floor with your toes, hold this pose. This is a trick that will let you keep your back straight for as long as you wish. You just have to alternate your feet when you get tired from holding the pose. Place your computer keyboard low enough so you do not need to raise your shoulders. In order to do this, you will need a chair that is high enough. Another way to solve this problem is to use a special pullout shelf for your keyboard. The shelf needs to be a little bit lower than the computer desk or table itself.
Absolutely forbid yourself to use low sofas and arm-chairs. From the side, these can look soft and comfortable and oh, so inviting! They’re just like cheese in a mousetrap, and they can trap even a very healthy mouse! Sitting in them places an extreme overload on the lower back. To get up from one of these death traps, if you ever do, you have to bend forward, overloading and traumatizing your lumbar spine even more. Your best bet to escape from one of these is to wait for someone to lend you a hand. Who knows how long that might take and how many meals you might miss? To get up from a low sofa safely, you have to move to its edge and then just then get up. You can help yourself if you push yourself off the edge of the seat with your hands while standing up.
My best advice is not to go near these things. They are often found in break rooms, lobbies or lounges, often being cast-offs or purchased at a “deep” discount because of their poor construction. It’s better to take your break standing up than to sit in one of these contraptions and never be heard from again.
POSTURE WHILE STANDING
If you have to stand for a long time, remember that when your head is tilted too much it overloads the cervical spine. Correct posture in a standing position consists of holding your chin horizontally, in such a way that your ears are even with your shoulders. You have to also tense your abdominal muscles slightly. This light tension takes the load off the lumbar spine and eliminates low back pain. Shoes without heels, as well as footwear with heels that are too high, are very bad for the spine. Shoes with small heels will keep your spine, feet, and the joints of your legs in good condition. My book “Simple Carriage” is totally dedicated to problems with body alignment and incorrect posture.
HOW TO MAKE A BED CORRECTLY
For being a relatively small task, making a bed is one that can cause big problems. To make a bed without being paralyzed with back pain you have to avoid bending too far over a wide bed. Never stand at one edge of the bed and try to reach the opposite side. To save your low back, just lean on the bed with your knee. If the bed is too wide, walk around it. I know, you’re in a hurry! And it takes five extra seconds to walk around even a king-sized bed! Wow! Take five extra seconds and walk around it! If you don’t have five extra seconds, don’t make the bed! Your back is more important than being tidy; no matter what your mother taught you!
GETTING INTO A CAR
Start getting into a car by turning your back to the seat. After you sit down on the edge of the seat, turn your body slowly and lift one leg into the car. It should be possible to lean on the steering wheel with your hand if you are trying to get into the driver’s seat. Turn your body with your thighs and shoulders as a whole. This will avoid twisting motions in your lower back. Do these movements in reverse to get out of the car.
Even though custom-made car seats probably exist, it’s possible to fit the seat of your car to your own back. It’s crucial that your back be firmly pressed against the back of the seat and for your headrest to be positioned according to your height. Do not set the back of your seat up too straight vertically, because that will cause discomfort while you’re driving. It’s important to support the curve in your lumbar spine, whether you’re a passenger or the one driving the car. To do this, you can use the built-in pullout part of your seat at the level of your low back. I recommend you pull it out to the maximum.
If your car doesn’t have this built-in system, you can use a special back-roller made for driving or anything you have available. For instance, you can roll up a towel to place behind your lower back. You need to take mini-breaks to get out of the car and walk around every hour while riding or driving. This helps restore blood flow to the spine and also prevents muscle spasms. If you’re having an episode of acute back pain you need to avoid driving until you’re feeling better.
PARTICIPATING IN SPORTS
If you have problems with your back, it’s a good idea to discuss your plans to exercise or participate in sports with your doctor. Your doctor can tell you what activities you need to avoid as well as help you plan activities and choose an exercise program that’s right for you. When thinking about sports and exercise as a whole, some basic principles to keep in mind are that any activity you participate in should not include jerky, bending or twisting movements in your back, especially when you’re experiencing an acute episode of pain.
Even a sport that’s relatively “calm,” like fishing, can place an excessive amount of strain on the back. Some fishermen keep their backs bent for hours at a time. But if you follow the rules of posture and load in the standing or sitting position, you can relax and enjoy yourself while taking a vacation at the lake, or in the lake or anywhere else!
General rules of movements
1. Before doing any work, evaluate if it is safe and appropriate for you to do. What is safe for someone else, may not be safe and appropriate for you.
2. While working at low levels get down on one knee. Always avoid bending in your lower back.
3. Change your position often. Take frequent breaks to rest and stretch while you’re working.
4. Keep your back and spine straight. Keep them vertical and balanced all the time.
5. Avoid jerky movements and situations that could cause uncontrolled movements. Jerks like this can make problems with the spine worse.
Read about the rules of movements for the Spine during Household Chores Here.