Green Living Magazine - Are Heels and Purses Killing your Back?
June 15, 2012
Article by Dr. Jason Datta Published by Green Living AZ magazine
A typical workday for many women today often involves big stress to her back and neck. So, how can women survive the work week without incurring spine pain that dampens the weekend? In many cases, simple changes can bring significant relief in reducing back and neck pain complaints. Here are a few tips to make the "typical workday" easier on your back.
Breathe easy – purses don't need to be eliminated, just downsized a bit. By examining clinical studies on the relationship between carrying backpacks and back pain in adolescents, as well as the impacts of wearing heavy protective gear, we can make some reasonable, scientifically based recommendations. Carrying extra weight has a direct correlation with increased rates of back pain, and the rate of back pain is greater when a bag weighs more than 6 pounds. Some of the trendy handbags can weigh up to 4 pounds when empty. Also, one strap versus two straps doesn't seem to make a difference; however, the manner in which a handbag is carried does impact the stresses applied to the spine. The bag should lay about waistline and should be kept close to the center of gravity next to the body.
High heels are beautiful, but in no way are they practical. Recent studies examining back erector muscle activity (the extensor muscles of the back) show significant increases in the activity level of this muscle group in women wearing high heels. These muscles have to work harder to offset fatigue when in comparison to wearing lower elevated shoes. If your back is starting to hurt, consider going to the lowest heel height possible. Another option is to alternate heels with a back-up pair of comfortable shoes. Appropriate-fitting shoes have an effect on gait. "Appropriate fit" means a shoe big enough to comfortably allow for toes, the width of the foot, and a snug heel. Throughout a life span, the human foots typically widens and lengthens, not because the foot is still growing but because of ligament relaxation that occurs as we get older. These changes can alter the stresses on the back. An accurate measurement of the foot when buying shoes ensures a good fit.
At work or play
at work: Whether a woman is at work or at home, she should always look for ways to improve her environment to lessen the stress and strain on the back and neck. At work, many companies offer an ergonomic evaluation of the workstation if requested. Good suggestions for improving ergonomics to reduce stress and strain include:
- A computer monitor should be viewed at eye level while the keyboard should be used at a comfortable height for your shoulders.
- A lightweight headset makes sense for anyone who spends hours on the phone.
- Chairs should adjust to the right height, and support your back properly.
These simple changes can be made by your employer, but only if the problem is identified. If you spend the day repeating the same task for hours, make it a point to change positions hourly.
after work: After the day is complete, it is time for you. A regular exercise program, regardless of type, helps reduce neck and back pain problems and discomforts. Daily exercise that incorporates loading (walking, running, weights, for example) the skeleton improves overall bone health. Adding appropriate amounts of calcium and vitamin D in your diet will help prevent bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis (silent weakening of the bones that can lead to fractures with age). Yoga is a well-studied exercise beneficial for back and neck pain sufferers, beating out the results from traditional treatments for back pain. Yoga strengthens muscles and improves cardiovascular health; it improves flexibility lost through the work week; and the meditation incorporated during your practice reduces stress and depression which often increase the rate and severity of back pain complaints.
Take care of you
Women experience unique challenges every day, providing many opportunities to improve and maintain their spine health. Following the tips above could help improve and prevent back pain complaints.
Dr. Jason Datta is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with specialization in spinal surgery. Dr. Datta practices medicine at Sonoran Spine and is a clinical instructor for the Phoenix Orthopedic Residency.