It seems like summer sneaks up on us each year, but the recent heat waves throughout the nation are the season’s way of saying “Hello! I’m here!” To take advantage of sunny skies, our schedules are often full of backyard barbecues, swimming in pools or at the beach, taking road trips and vacations, and playing sports in the park. Needless to say, summer offers a multitude of fun activities! But, with these activities also comes the potential for spine injuries and dangers for those already suffering from back pain. Here are a few lifestyle tips to help you take full advantage of the joys of summer without over-burdening your back in the process:
Watch What You Wear
During the hot summer months, flip-flops are an easy go-to shoe for quick errands, lounging by the pool or trips to the beach. But if you've ever walked in them for a long while, you know they can also cause discomfort. The convenient slip-on style of flip-flops allows your heel to slide around, creating a lack of stability and support, thus putting more pressure on your spine and potentially causing back pain. This type of unsecured footwear can also contribute to an increased risk of slips and falls – creating the potential for serious and unnecessary spine trauma to occur. To minimize your risk, instead try sandals with straps around the heel to keep them securely in place, or wear slip-on shoes that offer more support, especially for longer walks and all-day wear.
If you’re traveling this summer, you’re likely to be stuck in a car, on a train, in an airport, or on a plane. Sitting. For a long, long time. Or, sometimes we simply tire of the hot sun and decide to stay inside. Whether you’re on the road or cooped up in the house or office, for optimal spine health, don’t forget that it’s still important to keep moving so that you’re not sitting in one position for too long.
Halt Heavy Lifting
Packing a big bag for the beach or boat, lugging around a big suitcase, or hiking with a hefty backpack…well, you can probably see where I’m headed with this one. Be sure not to overload your spine with unnecessary weight. If you’ll be carrying your items for an extended period of time, seriously evaluate what’s a “must have” for your trip and what can be left behind. You’re back will thank you later, I promise.
Choose Safer Summer Sports
• Water -- Swimming is a fantastic form of low-impact exercise for maintaining spine health. Water sports, such as water skiing, however, can cause spinal compression and whiplash trauma so take extra safety precautions while boating.
• Running -- The repetitive pounding of running can cause spinal compression, particularly in the lower back. Many patients prefer elliptical machines for the same exercise benefit but with less impact on the spine.
• Hiking – Be careful while walking on uneven ground and be sure to wear comfortable shoes that offer support and balance. If you’re bringing a backpack, use straps that distribute weight evenly, bring plenty of water to stay hydrated and pack as lightly as possible to reduce strain on the spine.
• Golf -- From the heavy bag of clubs to the repetitive, deep twisting and swinging motions, golf can be a surprisingly dangerous sport for the spine. Take care to stretch and not overextend yourself.
Practice Good Gardening
A great stress reliever, yard work also includes repetitive bending and lifting of heavy objects like lawn equipment, bags of soil, and planter pots. Using gardening stools, wheelbarrows and cushions will help alleviate some pressure – just be sure to move and stretch often and lift items safely.
Take Time to Unwind
The best days of summer are usually carefree and filled with leisure but with kids out of school, various schedules to juggle, vacations to plan, work to do, and chores to finish, it’s easy to get stressed. I always like to remind my patients that taking care of themselves is just as important as anything else on their to do list. Whether it's the exercise you need to stay fit and feeling good or the quiet time alone to stay balanced, it’s crucial to care for yourself the same way you care for all the other things in your life.
Wishing you a happy, healthy summer!