Simple ways to keep your back strong and posture perfect, no matter what you are doing
When you are sleeping
Propping your head up with too many pillows – or sleeping on mega-soft unsupportive ones – can trigger back problems by straining the neck and back. The head should be well-supported but kept in line with the spine, say experts. Invest in quality pillows and replace them every six months. If you lie on your back, use one pillow to avoid an unnatural bend in the neck. Sleeping on your side puts the least stress on your spine, but you may need two pillows. If you sleep on your front (the worst position for your back), you may not need any pillows at all.
Doing the housework
Housework should be a workout. So when you vacuum, never stand still and simply push the machine back and forth. Engage your tummy muscles, move with the vacuum and bend at the knees – never the waist.
When you have a cold
Sneezing is one of the top five causes of back pain, say osteopaths. The sudden force can have a whiplash effect, causing both back and neck pain. So when you feel a sneeze coming on, bend your knees to absorb the force into your lower legs instead of your spine.
On a night out
High-heeled shoes, particularly stilettos, force the entire weight of the body onto the front of the feet, altering your posture and putting pressure on your pelvis and lower back. Spongy inner soles will help absorb some stress.
When watching TV
Slumping in front of the box places enormous strain on your back, particularly if you have a cushion-backed soft sofa. Ideally, watch TV while sitting upright on a dining room-type chair so that your hips are slightly higher than your knees – the best position for your back.
At your desk
Sitting still at work – and hunching over computer keyboards – causes more back problems than excessive lifting and carrying. Think BBC: Bums to Backs of Chairs. This ensures you sit upright and avoid the dreaded C slump. Foam seat wedges will ensure your pelvis is positioned higher than your knees.
Using your computer
Place your feet flat on the floor and ensure the top of the screen is level with your eyes to discourage you from slumping. To counteract repetitive mouse action, take some time out mid-morning and mid-afternoon to sit with your hands in your lap. Gently pull shoulder blades up, then back and down. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
When on the phone
If you're at work, stand up and arch your back when taking or making a call on the phone. Never cradle the phone between the ear and shoulder and type at the same time. This can contribute to neck and shoulder stiffness. Beware of “text neck,” caused by hunching over your telephone and overflexing the tissues and joints in the neck.
This can result in shoulder, neck and wrist pain in the short term, and curvature of the spine and arthritis in the long run. Gently rotate your head and neck after sending text. This will keep you feeling supple.
When you are driving
Make sure your headrest is positioned at the correct height to protect against whiplash in a crash. Position your rear view mirror so you have to sit up straight to see in it. Whenever you stop at traffic lights, suck in your tummy. A strong core will protect your back.
If you do one thing...
Stretching each muscle group for 15-30 seconds every day can make all the difference to protecting your back. Being able to bend over to touch your toes doesn't necessarily mean you're flexible. You need to move in six directions: flexing forwards and backwards; rotating to the right and left and moving sideways right and left – and it all can be done sitting, lying and standing.