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Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.

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Is Your Everyday Life Setting You Up for Pain?

Some everyday habits can cause muscle pain or even injury, so watch how you sleep, sit, walk and lift, and consider massage to alleviate pain.

Menopause & Aging Well
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Our lives are filled with so much motion that can strain our body, a complex, amazing machine.

Just thinking about all the possibilities is enough to make us dizzy: we turn, bend, lift, walk, run and move. And even when we're not in motion, that brilliant machine with all its moving parts is still being challenged: It's possible, after all, that sitting, standing or even sleeping in the wrong position can strain or harm some of its parts.

The offshoot? Although the body works in synchrony—most of the time—everyday habits that are automatic, natural and easy can be pain landmines. It happens despite our best efforts at being active and healthy.

So where might we be going wrong? The top five likely culprits:

Sleeping without the proper support. It's not a bad idea to evaluate your mattress about every five to seven years, says the Better Sleep Council. The wrong pillows or mattresses can set you up for a vicious cycle of pain. According to the Cleveland Clinic, more people visit health professionals for back pain than for any other condition, save for the common cold. And the cost is staggering, adding up to between $20 billion and $30 billion in health care expenses annually.

Lifting with our back and not our legs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 1 million workers suffer from back injuries every year. And low back pain accounts for one of the most common reasons for work absenteeism. But even if you're not lifting heavy boxes for a living, back pain happens if you lift anything the wrong way. Yes, there is a proper lifting technique, and it's worth learning, to prevent tweaking your back and setting yourself up for pain.

  • Don't: Lift from a standing position with your waist bent or knees locked.
  • Don't: Lift by bending forward.
  • Don't: Lift a heavy object above shoulder level.
  • Do: Be aware of the weight of what you'll be lifting.
  • Do: Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. One foot should be slightly in front of the other.
  • Do: Squat down (bend at the hips and knees); look straight ahead, keeping your back straight, chest out and shoulders back.
  • Do: Slowly lift, keeping a straight upper back (with a slight arch in your lower back) while straightening out your hips and knees.

Remember: Give your legs the power when lifting—not your back!

Sitting at the computer all day. Neck and shoulder pain can be the offshoot of hours spent reading e-books, trading e-mails or working at your computer or tablet. Why? Your neck houses the top of your spine, that small stack of bones known as cervical vertebrae. The wrong position can cause the vertebrae and muscles in your neck to become misaligned, resulting in back and neck strain—and even injuries.

A study from the Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Microsoft found a simple solution: By simply changing the angle to one where you don't need to bend your neck too much, you can reduce the strain to your muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments and spinal discs. Keeping your shoulders relaxed with your elbows close to your body helps, too. And take a break every 15 minutes.

Another effective solution: Reach for help and grab a handheld massager. It helps melt away tension that builds up in your shoulders and back throughout the day. Voila! Improved flexibility, less stiffness.

Wearing the wrong footwear. Sure, those stilettos look sexy and sleek. And those cute flip-flops are the perfect go-to summer look to showcase that great new pedicure. But those fab looks may be compromising your alignment or throwing it off, changing your gait and paving the way for back pain. The lower the heel, the better, experts say. Low heels, sneakers, insoles or inserts can be your back's best friends.

Exercising and ignoring massage. You're doing a good thing for yourself by exercising: controlling your weight; reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome; improving your mood; strengthening your bones and muscles; and reducing your risk of falls. In short: You're increasing your chance of living longer.

And yet. Many people don't top off their exercise routine with massage. Yeah, I get it. You're busy enough. Who has time to indulge in a massage? Besides, it's expensive. So what if it can help reduce muscle tension, promote relaxation, increase your range of motion and decrease your chance of suffering sore muscles?

For those of you who don't have the time or the means, consider doing a massage at home.

You'll still be able to reap the benefits mentioned above—plus, you'll have one less excuse to skip your workout tomorrow.

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