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The Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain
by Graham Challenger
We rarely think about our backs until they ache or hurt. As we get older, more and more of us have back problems. The American Council on Exercise has tips on how to maintain a healthy spine and some thoughts about how a comfortable mattress can make a difference.
1. Sleep on a firm, comfortable mattress to reduce lower back pain.
Adults spend about one third of their lives in bed. All the major mattress manufacturers remind us of this, in constant advertising. They are correct in saying that a "good mattress" makes a great deal of difference in the quality of sleep. Exactly what "good" means, is where the PR spin begins. Independent medical research reports time after time that your body needs a firm, flat surface, without sagging at the weight-bearing points near the shoulders and hips.
The internal structure of a mattress gives it firmness. The surface padding is only a cosmetic element, that you will cover with sheets and bedding in your home. The choice of a traditional, spring-coil mattress, or highly advertised foam mattresses and/or "number" adjustable air-beds is only a personal preference. Don't let the advertising convince you otherwise. The comfort you experience with any mattress has no direct connection to any one of the three bed styles or any specific brand name.
Consumer groups also agree with me, that comfort is rarely related to the price you pay. Do your own research, and look at all the mattress styles available, but base your purchase decision on the firmness of the mattress, not the cosmetic surface, the prestigious name brand, or the price. Some of the best, firm mattresses come from small independent manufacturers and cost substantially less that the highly advertised brands, but you'll need to look harder to find them, for that reason.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
The average American is heavier now than ever before. This is not the result of "living in a land of plenty" or wealth, but directly attributable to a poor diet, filled with salt, sugar and excess calories. Extra weight means your muscles work harder to move your body and spend less time correcting natural posture. Try carrying a backpack with an extra 15, 30, or 50 pounds around all day. You'll notice the difference. Excess weight is added gradually and can be removed the same way with correct eating habits and beginning even a moderate exercise program.
3. Strong back muscles are healthy muscles.
Strong body core muscles are important to a healthy body. Walking, running, and lifting and carrying everyday items require strong muscles. All the muscles of the body's core affect your posture and strength. Weak abdominal muscles are precursors to back problems. Sit-ups and stretching exercises a few times a week can pay great dividends in strength and good posture.
4. Remember good posture.
The human body works, moves, and rests best with correct posture. Body mechanics are important to preventing back problems. Too much body weight, poor walking/standing posture, and athletic activities stress the discs in your back, strain your muscles, and stretch your ligaments. With good posture, you move the way your body was designed to work.
5. Learn/remember to walk, run, and move in ways that are best for your body.
The human body is stressed by the things we ask it to do in today's world. Jogging slams our body weight down on our feet with each step. Aerobic walking is better for you. Heavy briefcases, purses, and laptops will stress your muscles in odd directions. Look at the way your child walks when wearing a heavy school backpack. Lift and carry weight correctly. Use your leg muscles, not your back and arms. Asking for help is a good idea. Avoid carrying cumbersome, bulky items. Holding the phone between your ear and shoulder stretches the discs in your neck. Be aware of how you move and what you ask your muscles to do.
6. Warm up your muscles before expecting them to work hard.
When muscles are cold, they are more prone to injury. Don't start any exercise program without stretching and warming up first. Know your physical limits and don't push yourself too far. A regular schedule of light exercise is better than trying to do a week's worth on Saturday morning when you have more time. A little exercise is better than none, but regular exercise pays great dividends.
7. Stay flexible.
Many doctors recommend yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi for patients with chronic back problems for a good reason. Inflexibility is a gradual decline in your ability to recover from unusual stretching or athletic activity. Walking a single flight of stairs can be an effort with back problems. Before you become that inflexible, do some stretching on a regular basis. Slow, gradual extensions and stretching of your limbs and muscles will contribute to a flexible body and good posture. A sedentary lifestyle will gradually limit your range of motion and make you more prone to injury or minor aches and pains.
8. Support your lower back when sitting.
The human body wasn't designed to sit in office chairs. Chairs were designed for us to sit on, and most chairs are not designed for back support. Spending all day slumped over your desk/computer at work is a recipe for back problems and bad posture. Set your desk and chair heights to allow the best sitting posture possible. Take breaks often. Stand up and walk around. Even if you are tied to the desk, you can stand when talking on the phone or discussing topics with colleagues. A small pillow or rolled towel placed at your lower back can add support to a poor chair design. These same principles apply to your recliner at home, too.
9. Know your limitations.
Whether you overdo it cleaning the attic, mowing the lawn, playing tennis or bowling, know when to quit. The short term gain of finishing the last inning of a softball game could mean weeks of pain and limited motion. You may get sympathy in the office, but the potential for long term damage isn't worth the glory. More stamina in physical activity comes from a better exercise program, not pushing yourself on game day.
10. Reduce the stress in your life.
Stress increases the stiffness and tension in your muscles, especially around the neck, shoulders, and back. It's easy to say "reduce your stress" and harder to do. Learn relaxation techniques and ways to reduce your daily stress level, and you'll feel the positive results.
You can read more about the benefits of exercise by visiting the Web site of the American Council on Exercise.