A Stronger Middle Is A Safer Back
Nurses are among the lucky few who utilize heart, mind, and muscle in equal professional proportion. Our jobs are inherently physical - we are rolling our patients over, helping them stand, or supporting them as they attempt ambulation. Whether pulling stretchers or hauling equipment, we almost expect a certain amount of back strain, despite an awareness of proper body mechanics. What we may not know however, is that the key to both a stronger back and fewer injuries lies not in the spine but in the muscles surrounding the abdomen and hips, that handful of muscles that has been dubbed "the core" by yoga instructors and perfect-postured Pilates instructors nationwide.
Maybe you're an organic produce buying, yoga-mat toting nurse, or maybe you're slugging one extra-large coffee after another, too busy with your job and your kids and keeping some semblance of order in your life to learn about the location of your third eye. Regardless, you need to learn about and strengthen your core. Doing so could, quite literally, save your back from debilitating injury.
By the time muscles feel sore, minor damage to the integrity of muscle tissue has already taken place - tiny tears have already formed in the muscle fibers. Without ample time to recover, these small fissures fail to heal. Instead, the tears grow more extensive and form adhesions with the surfaces of surrounding tissue. Repetitive motion, such as that performed by many of us in the routine course of our daily work, can generate a vast network of adhesions. Muscle stiffness and a decreased range of motion result. In turn, continued overuse of the same already taxed muscles leads to further damage and injury.
Pay attention to those areas of your body where you tend to collect tension and soreness. For many of us, that epicenter of stress and is located somewhere between the shoulder blades and the lower lumbar region. Core strengthening addresses and alleviates compromised muscle function in these areas. When paired with simple breathing exercises for stress relief, your body will feel lighter, looser, and stronger. Further, you may spare yourself the long road to recovery that follows a back injury.
In order to get a feel for the collection of muscles which constitute the core, sit comfortably in a chair and place both feet flat on the floor in front of you. Inhale deeply. Straighten and lengthen your spine. By shifting your pelvic "bowl" back slightly and intentionally drawing your umbilicus towards your spinal column, you will feel a muscular contraction. This is your core. All lifting motions should originate from this central location. Simply performing this easy exercise, holding it through five long breaths, and repeating it five to ten several times a day can start to tone core muscles.
For nurses who are ready for a more challenging maneuver, try the following. Shift to the front edge of your chair, supporting your arms on the sides of the chair. Bend your knees and lift them upwards towards your chest. The energy for this motion should originate from the abdomen, not from the arms or the legs. You are aiming for a steady, slow, and controlled movement. Lower the legs with as much control as possible, touch the feet softly to the floor, and repeat through several repetitions. This exercise, like the one above, can easily be done during a few down moments at work.
As you begin to feel your body getting stronger, deliberately employing your core muscles when lifting and performing other straining tasks, you may decide to step it up a notch. Classes, as well as gyms with specialized equipment, are excellent venues for continued strength training. Strong arms are certainly a boon when lifting and hauling are the order of the day, but unless upper body strength is balanced by an equally strong core, compromising back injuries may make unwelcome entrances into your life.
Sterner, D. (Apr 2008). Get to the core of the problem: Stronger, more flexible torso muscles and joints can reduce your risk of back injury. RN Magazine.
Copyright 2008- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved
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Liz Di Bernardo