by Brent Hearn •
For those of you who have read our articles Watch Your Back…at Work and Watch Your Back…at Home and have wondered if we’d draw from that well again, wonder no longer. Welcome to the third installment of our “Watch Your Back” series! We’d say, “final installment,” but who knows what the future will hold? (We’d certainly hate to close the door on any potential Watch Your Back…in Space or Watch Your Back…in the AI Uprising posts.)
Though most of our focus here is on sports, we have some bonus tips geared toward a couple of other popular leisure activities. If your favorite pastime isn’t mentioned, not to worry; there’s still plenty of info you can use to take care of your back however you spend your downtime.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys running, jumping, and/or propelling some sort of ball toward another human being, good for you! Playing a sport can keep your body in shape and your brain healthy.
Unfortunately, as so many of us know all too well, sports also provide ample opportunity for back injuries. Here are a few tips to protect your back while pursuing your athletic dreams, whether you’re gunning for the Olympics or you just want to put a hurting on that tennis league rival staring daggers at you from across the net.
Brush Up on the Basics
Maintaining good general back health goes a long way toward keeping your spine healthy during the demands of your sport of choice. Good posture, a solid core, plenty of quality sleep, a healthy body weight, and a proper pregame warmup are good “baseline” back care goals for which to strive. They’ll reduce your chances of getting injured and can help to shorten your time away from the game if you do suffer an injury.
Use the Equipment (Correctly)
Wearing the right equipment—and making sure it fits correctly—can help to protect your back, particularly in sports with heavy contact. (For example, some football and hockey protective gear is designed to provide a level of protection for your back.) Very smart people have invested a lot of time and research into developing state-of-the-art pads, helmets, and other protective gear, but it can only work optimally if it’s used optimally.
Take it to the Water
Sure, swimming is its own sport, but it can also pay dividends for athletes who don’t know a breaststroke from a backstroke. Swimming can condition muscles used to support your back, and it can also serve as cross-training for your primary sport.
If swimming isn’t your jam, but you don’t mind being in the water, water aerobics is a low-impact way to stay active whether you’re in tip-top shape or recovering from an injury.
This one seems simple, but it’s worth its weight in quality topsoil: limit the amount of time you spend in awkward positions with a high risk of tweaking your back. Do you really need to stoop over or be on your hands and knees for as long as you are? If so, take frequent breaks between extended sessions.
If you’re using a short-handled tool when a long-handled one would work just as well, make the switch and save your back. And if you’re pulling weeds, use our favorite piece of advice (with a slight modification): Pull with your legs and not your back.
Gardening may not be a leisure pursuit where anyone’s keeping score, but you can certainly borrow from those that do. Take some time to warm up and stretch—slowly and gently—before digging in the dirt, and your back will thank you.
Whether you’re blasting baddies, solving puzzles, or exploring open-world digital landscapes for hours on end, gaming can be an imaginative, immersive way to spend your free time. It can also wreak havoc on your back if you’re not careful.
In addition to following the advice mentioned in the “Brush Up on the Basics” section above (yes, it all applies to gaming—and pretty much everything else), consider some type of lumbar support for your lower back. There are seat cushions, etc., you can use for this, but even a rolled-up towel tied to the part of your chair that hits your lower back can serve the same purpose.
If you’re a PC gamer, consider applying some of the recommendations in OSHA’s computer Workstations eTool when setting up your gaming equipment.
When you’re gaming, it can be far too easy to find yourself locked into whatever is happening onscreen. This Kotaku article makes an excellent recommendation: every time you encounter a loading screen, stand up and move around.
Cleveland Clinic: Do You have Sports-Related Back Pain? Know When to Call a Doctor
SportsMedToday.com: Lower Back Pain in Athletes
Center for Spine & Orthopedics: 6 Ways to Prevent Sports-Related Back Pain and Injuries
Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Computer Workstations eTool
Kotaku: How To Take Care Of Your Back When You’re Playing Video Games