You have a 50-50 chance of being sidelined by back pain this time next year. Lack of exercise and excess weight are the most frequent culprits, but the wrong household setup can worsen your odds. “Prevention” magazine shares simple and easy ways to fix the spine saboteurs lurking in your home:
1. Problem: Unforgiving floors with no give put unnecessary shock on back discs. Even when standing in place, the body is meant to move; if it doesn't move, stiffness can set in that causes injury. Softening the floor can minimize shock.
Fix: Be sure to cushion well-trafficked areas. Position thick, non-skid rugs or rubber mats in front of the sink, stove, washer and dryer. When standing in one place for a while, rest your foot on a low stool or shelf under the sink. Switch legs every five minutes. The more frequently you relieve stress on a muscle or joint, the better shape your back will be in.
2. Problem: Your saggy mattress and pillows are putting an unfair amount of stress on your back. We spend one third of our lives in bed. Do you wake up stiff every day? A mattress that is too soft will force muscles to work overtime while you're sleeping. A mattress that is too firm won't support your entire spine. A pillow (or stack of pillows) that's too high or too flat leaves your neck at an awkward angle. The wrong mattress doesn't give you the support you need to relax.
Fix: Place a sheet of plywood between your mattress and box spring. Be sure to place your pillows strategically! Keep your ear, shoulder and hip in a straight line, no matter what position you're in. If you sleep on your back, tuck an extra pillow under your knees and lower back. For those who prefer their slide, be sure to wedge a pillow between your knees. If your preferred position is on your stomach, then place a pillow under your hips. Throwing a leg over an extra-long body pillow will keep the spine in line as well.
If you read in bed, be sure to sit up straight with pillows behind your back and under your knees, and put a pillow on your lap to bring your book closer to your face.
Finally, you could always purchase a memory foam pillow that is contoured to support your neck.
3. Problem: Sofas and chairs without back support encourage slouching. Studies show that slouching can triple the pressure on the discs. Slouching over a laptop forces you to tuck in your neck, hunch over, and type with arms akimbo, none of which is good for your fragile back.
Fix: Tuck a throw pillow, lumbar roll or a rolled-up towel behind the small of your back. Prop feet on a small stool, keep chin up.
When using a laptop, be sure to use a portable laptop desk or hard-top lap cushion. If none of these suggestions works, rejigger laptops for comfort: Elevate the screen to eye level or plug in a full-size keyboard and mouse to keep wrists straight, elbows bent at 90 degrees. If these steps don't do the trick, then stick to a desktop computer!
4. Problem: Cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder strains the joints in your neck, shoulders and upper back.
Fix: Take advantage of the speakerphone function on your phone for longer calls. Only hold the phone in your hand for short calls. A third option would be to purchase a telephone headset.
5. Problem: If reaching the toilet paper roll from the porcelain throne requires contortions, you're not doing your spine any favors. Can you think of a more mortifying moment to throw out your back?
Fix: Be sure to gather your supplies ahead of time. If the toilet paper holder is far from the seat, unspool some tissue before you sit down. If you forget, reach gingerly while keeping your spine straight and abs tight. If there's no good place on the wall, a freestanding holder is a simple and attractive alternative.
For more health tips and information, visit Prevention magazine.