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Avoiding low back strain, by Toronto physio

Pam Honeyman BSc. BHSc. P.T., on-site physiotherapist and ergonomist.

Lifting After Prolonged Sitting or Bending? Proceed with Caution!

Don’t Let “CREEP” in the Back Slow You Down!

Think before you lift! That’s an expression you’ll hear from many health professionals.

Ever wonder why you should consider the position your body’s been in before you heave a load of laundry or bend down to tie your shoes? Did you know that certain positions can lead to back injury? If your back has been in a bent position for an extended period of time (including sitting), it’s best to avoid immediately bending forward and any other similar activities.

The stress and stretching of the back muscles and ligaments which occurs during bending (also described as forward flexion), is a physiological phenomenon called “CREEP.” The acronym CREEP is an easy way to remember Continuous and Repetitive Elongation of the Elastic Properties of tissues.

CREEP happens when repetitive loading of tissues – a result of being in a prolonged position – causes an increase in the flexibility of the tissues in the normal range of motion. How does this affect our back and why should we be careful? CREEP, as stated in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “causes a decrease in the stiffness of the tissues through the range of motion and an increase in the total range of motion in the lumbar segments.” This may lead to an unstable back during lifting.

Unfortunately the CREEP that occurs with prolonged bending or sitting often doesn’t cooperate with our activities and the fast pace at which we tend to do things. Several routine daily life activities involve prolonged bending and then lifting. Be aware of them and try to avoid back strain by taking extra time before you lift.
1.Lifting a heavy suitcase after a long flight.
2.Snow shoveling immediately after a long commute home from work.
3.Repetitive bending in the garden after a leisurely read of the morning paper.
4.Lifting something heavy during home renovations after bending repeatedly to paint the baseboard.
5.Bending forward to pick up something from the floor (as light as a piece of paper) after sitting in front of your computer or watching TV.

This does not give you an excuse to ignore a chore or activity! With proper care, you won’t be slowed down by pain caused from CREEP – induced low back strain.
•After being in a prolonged bent position, stand upright and bend backwards with your hands at the waist to support your backward bend. This movement will compensate for the elongation of the back tissues.
•Repeat five to ten times. If you experience back pain, you may be extending too far backwards or this exercise is not appropriate for you due to some other back ailment.
•If you can remember and are able to, try to avoid immediate lifting after prolonged forward flexion.
•Use your judgment. Lag times between extended forward flexion and lifting depend on an individual’s physical fitness.

Strength Training

Having those “abs of steel” – strong core muscles – can also make a difference in the prevention of low back pain. Many research studies show strong abdominal and stabilizing back muscles can aid in the appropriate rigidity of the lower back. These specific muscles, if strong and well trained, can increase core stability and decrease movement in the lower back. Increased movement in the low back due to weak core muscles and obesity can lead to early wear and tear in the joints causing pain and disability.

Talk to the Experts

Physiotherapists are well trained in the assessment and treatment of low back injuries and provide educational tools on how to prevent back ache. Physiotherapists also have an expertise on how to train core stabilizing muscles. Did you know that you don’t need a physician’s referral for physiotherapy treatment? (Unless you are over 65 and want OHIP to pay.)

--Pam Honeyman

Copyright © 2007 Pam Honeyman

Pam Honeyman BSc., BHSc. P.T., /CAFCI (acupuncture certification) , Registered Physiotherapist

Procare Rehabilitation, 890 Yonge St Suite 600, Toronto (Yonge and Davenport - 2 blocks north of Bloor) 416 324-2240


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