Back Pain Prevention 101
This is for those of you who don’t have back problems and don’t want them.
One of the first issues to look at is leg flexibility, especially the hamstring muscles in the back of the leg. Because we almost never squat in our culture, we rarely have optimal flexibility in our hips or calves. If your hips and calves don’t move your back has to. See the “hamstring stretch” for tips to improve this flexibility.
Spine Flexibility and Strength
Spine flexibility forwards, backwards, and in rotation is key. People without back problems can normally bend forward without pain, touching their toes or getting close to it. On average we bend forward around 2000X per day, performing regular tasks. Bending backwards is another story. There aren’t many natural movements that require a backwards bend. To stretch your back backwards, first lie on your stomach and press the palms into the floor under your shoulders.
Then straighten your arms. If you have done yoga it is like an upward dog. If you can only get part way up, keep trying using your breath to assist your movement. With the inhale lie flat on the floor and as you exhale push up. Do not hold the position or your breath. Keep lowering and lifting – repeat at least 10X.
Be conscious of tension and try and keep the spine relaxed and loose during the exercise. If you have a more sedentary job this would be a great exercise to do several times per day. Arm strength could be a limitation. For an alternate position prop yourself up on the elbows rather than extending fully through your arms. Remember if you do feel pain, you should only go to the edge of the pain – not into it.
The strength of your back is crucial. Figure 3 and 4 demonstrate Active Back Extensions. Start by lying on the floor, as you breathe in lift your chest extending and lifting the back up. While you lift push the tops of your feet into the floor. For more intensity stretch your arms out in front of you. Figure 5 demonstrates a modified version with a cushion for people who need support.
Alignment is important in reducing stress on the back. Your body should be balanced over your feet keeping your spine long while maintaining the natural curves. See my video about “How to Stand Comfortably” and you will see how to practice that. The core concept is to push off the floor to gain our full length, then release into our best posture.
This bottom up concept is also important while sitting. You want to be on the base of support or your ‘sit bones’. This insures you are not stressing the muscles and ligaments of your back. See “How to Sit Comfortably” to review good sitting positions.
The back must have stability also. This means you need strength in the front, the back, and the sides surrounding your back – i.e. your core. My favorite core exercise that hits all 3 is the plank. Hold yourself in the push-up position, pulling in the belly and keeping hips and shoulders in line. Gently push through your feet to lengthen through the body using the GRF or Ground Reaction force. For those of you who are familiar with these moves, alternating the plank with the Downward Dog yoga pose is an awesome dynamic workout!
Ultimately, the best way to keep pain free is to keep your body moving. Walking every day is a great start if you don’t have a regular exercise routine. Movement lubricates the joints, increases strength, and makes you feel good!
As always, listen to your body and contact me if you need further assistance to be in your best body.