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Understanding your back

Most people have experienced low back soreness following a day at the office, sports activities, or heavy lifting. Millions of people – actually 80% of the population, experience back pain significant enough to alter their normal routine in some way.

Understanding the Back

  • The spine is a made up of bony vertebrae with discs in between each one. The discs, composed of softer material, are supported by the ligaments and muscles of the spine and provide shock absorption during activities.
  • Repetitive bending, incorrect lifting and poor posture can cause the discs and bones to degenerate.
  • Injury to the spine can add pressure and compress nerves as they exit the spine causing pain and/or numbness in the back or legs.
  • A back strain or "throwing your back out" is an injury to the muscles or ligaments around the spine. Often caused by heavy lifting, shoveling snow, and other similar activities, this is generally a short-term problem if taken care of properly.

Preventing Back Injuries

  • Sitting posture: Choose a chair that doesn't slant back. Hips and knees should be bent at 90-degree angles with your feet flat on the ground.
  • Sleeping posture: Lay on your back with a pillow positioned under the knees allowing them to bend, or on your side with a pillow between your bent legs. Stomach sleepers should choose a firmer mattress and place a pillow under the stomach to decrease stress at the neck

Proper Lifting Techniques for Preventing Back Injuries

  • Use a wide, staggered stance. Point your feet in the direction of the activity with one foot slightly in front of the other to increase your base of support.
  • Keep the load close to your body. This will decrease the force on your spine.
  • Bend from your legs, while shifting the hips back. Let your back muscles maintain your back's posture while your legs and hips do the lifting.
  • Avoid twisting by keeping your pelvis square to the object that you are lifting.


  • If you injure your back, ice, gentle stretching, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can be helpful. However, if symptoms persist for more than one to two weeks, or if you have pain that radiates into the leg, seek treatment sooner.
  • Schedule an appointment with your primary care physician who may refer you for diagnostic tests or physical therapy.

For additional questions on back pain, other sports medicine topics or to schedule a FREE Injury Evaluation, call the Aurora Sports Medicine Hotline™ at (414) 219-7776 or (800) 219-7776.