Your Safety: Everyday ergonomics

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It doesn't take much. Maybe you picked up your child, lugged the trash bag to the curb or loaded heavy groceries into the car. Back pain – the most common medical disorder in modern society – is often triggered by simple, daily activities like these. Statistics indicate that two-thirds of all Canadians will experience at least one episode of back pain in their lifetime.

How your back works
You may not realize it but you use your back constantly – to bend, twist, stand, even to lie down. This steady pattern of wear and tear makes the back extremely vulnerable to stress, strain and fatigue. All the more reason to keep your back healthy – after all, you've only got one!

Your back is an ingenious structure, brilliantly engineered to support your upper body and give it flexibility. Your spinal column is made up of 24 moveable bones, called vertebra, which are separated by tough cushions of cartilage, called discs. The entire structure is supported by muscles and ligaments that help keep your back straight and strong.

Warning signs of back problems
back or leg pain when coughing or sneezing
stiffness in the morning that decreases when you move around
inability to turn or bend to each side equally
difficulty standing up after sitting for any period of time
pain in your hip, buttock, thigh, knee or foot
leg pain with tingling, numbness and/or weakness
pain that prevents you from sleeping well

The usual suspects
Some of the common causes of back pain include:
standing or sitting for long periods
sitting for long periods in poorly designed chairs or chairs without proper back support
sitting without properly supporting your feet
working in a cramped position or hunched over a work station
pushing or pulling objects that are heavy or awkward
repeated stretching or reaching
exposing your back to whole body vibrations, such as driving a truck, snowmobile, ride-on mower, etc.
stress can cause muscle tension and tightness that can lead to back pain

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Protecting your back
Research indicates that 80% of all back pain is the direct result of poor physical fitness and lack of exercise. Most back pain is caused by overusing or overstretching the muscles and ligaments that support the spine. Sudden, unexpected movements can also cause pain by straining your back joints or injuring a disc.

Maintaining good posture when you stand, sit and lie down is one of the easiest ways to keep your back healthy and pain-free. It’s also important to keep your trunk and abdominal muscles strong and flexible to protect your back from injury. A regular routine of strengthening exercises and stretching will go a long way towards improving your overall strength and flexibility.

Excess weight, especially in the abdominal area, is another common cause of back pain. The strain of supporting those extra pounds puts steady pressure on the muscles of the back. Visit Eat smart and learn more about a healthy diet and good nutrition. A few dietary changes may save you years of aches and pains!

Lifting is one of the most common causes of back injury. Whether you're lifting your baby out of a crib, putting groceries into the trunk or moving a stack of art supplies, you should always follow safe lifting techniques to protect your back from unnecessary strain.

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Here are some great ideas to help keep your back healthy:
If your neck is stiff and sore, your purse or briefcase could be the culprit. Take out everything you don’t really need and lighten your load a little.
A purse with a strap that goes across one shoulder helps balance the weight and leaves your hands free.
Use a wheeled briefcase for heavier loads.
Alternate heavy tasks with easier tasks – it reduces the stress on your joints and allows your muscles to rest.
Use helpful devices, such as luggage carts, grocery carts and reaching tools, such as stools or ladders, to make daily tasks easier.
Wear proper walking shoes that support your feet and help you maintain good posture.
Make sure you stretch before and after exercising or doing heavy work to avoid injury or strain.
Apply ice to ease aching muscles and stiff joints, then relax with a hot shower.

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