low back pain

How to Correctly Wear a Backpack

It's that time of year - back to school! Getting back into an academic routine can be really fun, but whether you're walking across your college campus or up the stairs at your high school, your backpack can be damaging your posture and causing a lot of pain. Here are some pointers to lessen the negative effects a backpack can cause.

1) Tighten the straps. Whenever you are carrying a heavy weight (be it a backpack, laundry basket, or groceries), it's the easiest on your body when you carry it as close as possible to your center of gravity. For us, that happens to be at belly button level in the center of our bodies. So for a backpack, you want it as flush to your back (the center of it around belly button level). Most people tend to wear their straps loosely so there's a visible gap between their lower back and the bag itself. Go ahead and tighten up the straps and feel the difference. If your backpack also has a belt that can go around your waist, that will also help to distribute the load appropriately. 

2) Use BOTH straps. It's easy to swing that bag up over just one shoulder, especially if you're in a hurry. But having this heavy weight just on one side of your body will typically cause you to lean away from the bag and forward. This causes a lot of stress on your lower back as well as makes your to contort your neck to see the world in front of you. This excess neck strain can lead to tension headaches. 

3) Don't carry so much. Easier said than done, we know, but making more frequent trips to your locker, car, or apartment so that you're carrying a lighter load will put much less strain on your body. It'll help you get to your 10,000 steps a day goal too!

4) Be careful how you lift it. As we've previously inferred, backpacks can be tremendously heavy. Therefore, it's important that you use good body mechanics when picking up your bag. If it's on the floor, remember to squat or lunge down to the bag. Then, pull it close to your body near your belly button. Next, stand up keeping that bag at belly button level. Once you're up you can move the backpack onto your shoulders. 

5) Choose the right bag. Backpacks can come in different sizes. There's also options like messenger bags and roller bags. Choose one that will be the most convenient for you understanding that, from a musculoskeletal health perspective, the best bag is a rolling one, followed by a standard two strap backpack, with the worst option being the messenger bag. If you do decide to use a messenger bag, wear it across your body so that the load is more evenly distributed across your body and not all on one side. 

Have a great year!

Pregnancy and Pain: How Physical Therapy Can Help

Pregnancy is a journey and as time passes, you'll likely experience some sort of musculoskeletal pain. Additionally, that pain is likely to evolve and change as your pregnancy progresses. Some common complaints women have during pregnancy are low back pain, pubalgia (pain in the pubic bone right behind your zipper), sciatica (pain into the buttock and/or leg), rib pain, and pelvic pain. Although these issues arise as your body changes from the pregnancy, there's no reason to wait it out - nine months is a long time to hurt! There are many ways in which physical therapy can help.

Let's start with discussing how the body changes during pregnancy. As the baby grows, so does your stomach. As it grows further outward, your center of mass shifts forward and your pelvis widens. To compensate for this we tend to bear more weight through our toes, lean back, and let our legs rotate outward. These compensations cause us to overutilize our piriformis muscle and other hip rotators, lower back extensors, and calves. Leaning backward will also close the facet joints in our lumbar spines (lower backs) and can cause nerve entrapment and pain. These postural changes and the weight of the baby itself will cause our pelvic floor to work harder which can cause muscle spasm and more nerve entrapment. On top of all of this, ligaments in our bodies naturally become more lax as pregnancy progresses so that the baby can move easily through the pelvis. This is good news during delivery, but can cause skeletal malalignments and additional pain. 

Postural Restoration Institute-based physical therapy can help ease this pain as our interventions address all of these issues at one time. PRI focuses on flexing the lumbar spine and moving the center of gravity as far backward to its normal position as possible. This opens the lumbar facet joints and can relieve a great deal or lower back and/or leg pain. As our lumbar spines return to a more normal position, our legs will also return to a more normal rotational angle. This takes a great deal of strain off of the hip rotators that may be causing pain in the buttock region, but those muscles may also be compressing the sciatic nerve causing leg pain. Lastly, when our center of gravity moves backward, we can bear more weight through our heels as intended which will alleviate calf or foot pain. 

How does this happen? We utilize many positions in which to exercise to achieve maximum results. We tend to gravitate toward activities that involve lying on your side or on your hands and your knees as those allow us to isolate areas of the body and specifics muscles that we want to effect. This also unweights your pelvis and allows areas like your pelvic floor to relax for a bit. To make things more functional, we will reposition and strengthen in standing as well as long as our patient can tolerate it. Additionally, we do have modalities and various manual therapies to help us along in our goal of reducing your pain that can be utilized as needed. 

Think pregnancy-related issues stop once the baby is born? Unfortunately no, there are a multitude of problems that can arise aftward as well. Stay tuned as we discuss this topic in next week's blog post. 

Want to address your pregnancy-related pain? Call Integrate 360 Physical Therapy and 314-733-5000 or email lesley@integrate360pt.com or nancy@integrate360pt.com