Ways to keep your back healthy during summer

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Now that it’s summertime, many of us are catching up on yard work and enjoying outdoor activities. Unfortunately, back pain can be a consequence if you work or play too hard and don't follow a few simple back precautions.  Outlined below are some of the common causes of back pain in the summer and a few tips for staying pain free.

Gardening and Yard Work

Weeding, mowing, planting, raking and other lawn and garden tasks can take a toll on the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints in your back. Muscles in your back can be strained when you lift heavy bags of mulch or gravel, while stiffness and muscle spasms may be a consequence of sitting in the same position for hours when planting flowers and shrubs. Following a few of these tips can help you avoid back pain while working in the yard:

■ Warm up before you begin — even a few laps around the yard will get your blood flowing, relax your muscles and improve flexibility along with range of motion

■ Wear supportive shoes and avoid flip flops — closed shoes are safer, especially when mowing the yard

■ When moving heavy items, place your feet about 18 inches apart to improve stability. Bending your knees when you lift reduces stress on your back. Better yet, ask for help or use a wheelbarrow

■ Take frequent breaks when painting or planting to prevent your back from stiffening up

■ Don’t twist your body when you lift or dig

■ Use your arm and leg muscles to push your mower

■ Raise your flower beds to reduce the amount of bending needed to tend to your plants

■ Alternate hands — avoid only using your dominant hand when digging or raking as this constant motion on one side of your body can result in back pain.

■ Bend and stretch every 20 minutes or so when weeding or painting. This helps to keep your back and neck flexible

Golf, tennis, and Other Sports or Outdoor Activities

Swinging a golf club, tennis racquet or baseball bat can strain your back muscles and joints, particularly if your form is off or your posture is bad. According to the American Chiropractic Association, a force equal to 10 times your body weight is exerted on your spine during a golf swing. Playing these sports may also increase your risk of elbow and hip pain. Working with a professional or coach can help you ensure that you're using the best form when you swing.  If you don't have a pro or coach, you'll find plenty of information on stances, swings, and body mechanics in online videos.

Hiking or biking may also increase your risk of back pain or injuries. If you’re a hiker, make sure you wear hiking shoes or boots that offer adequate support for your feet. You can also use a walking stick to improve your balance and reduce pressure on your back.

Spending hours in one position during a long bike ride may lead to back spasms and a reduced range of motion. Make sure your bike is the right size for your body. If you have to stretch to reach the handlebars or the seat is too high, you're more likely to strain your lower back.

Stay Hydrated

A final and critical tip in avoiding pain in the summer is to stay hydrated. Enjoying outdoor activities in the Florida sun means drinking a lot of water. We have always heard about the importance of drinking four-to-eight glasses of water a day, but did you know that four 8-ounce glasses of water are considered the minimum intake for adults? So how much is best? A good rule of thumb is drink before you are thirsty. Ideally, you should never feel as if your mouth and throat are dry and that you “need” a drink of water. That means, when doing anything outdoors in the summer, have water nearby.

Sufficient water intake is critically important in maintaining normal physiological processes and eliminating metabolic waste products. Drinking appropriate amounts of water everyday aids each and every one of your body's cells in performing its numerous functions. In addition, water is a key component of the intervertebral discs located in your spinal column. So, adequate hydration is a critical element to keeping your back working properly and pain free.  

If you are experiencing back pain, talk with your health care provider. There are a variety of ways back pain can be treated. However, by following a few safety precautions, we hope you can enjoy all your favorite summer activities while staying pain free.

Dr. Erika Hamer, DC, DIBCN, DIBE, Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and owner of Ponte Vedra Wellness Center with offices in Ponte Vedra Beach and Nocatee Town Center

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