Fix your low back pain with better body mechanics

Too much sitting is hard on our bodies and can add to the prevalence of low back pain. Twenty-six bones make up the spinal column with three gentle curves from top to bottom. For many with low back pain, the cumulative effects of constant or repeated small stresses over time, like sitting, result in back pain. Too much sitting, combined with faulty posture, can flatten these curves over time. The spine is designed to function best as a weight-bearing structure, with the lumbar curve in a neutral position. Sitting rounded, or slumped in a seat, multiplies damaging pressure on lower back discs and soft tissues. Another concern is that prolonged sitting chronically shortens the hip flexors. Once again, too much sitting, prevalent in our modern age, has other drawbacks and can cause secondary health concerns, such as high blood pressure and increased risk for diseases like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disorders.

The good news is that low back pain can dissipate. Body composition, strength of the core musculature and faulty movement patterns are all potential cause of low back pain. Most back pain is easy to reverse; the secret is addressing common musculature imbalances. Too much sway or arch in the lower back, too much bending, weak or overstretched muscles, or poor posture are contributing factors that can be corrected to ensure a healthy back.

If you are in pain, but not dealing with diagnosed or undiagnosed medical issues, nerve impingement, or traumatic injury, you fall into the category of mechanical low-back pain.

Faulty Movement Patterns

The easiest way to fix your own pain is to correct faulty body mechanics. We know we shouldn’t bend wrong, but we do. We bend over wrong picking up laundry, petting the dog, making the bed, or looking at a phone. We work over our desks, drive and ride bent forward every day. Look around the gym and it’s a minefield of bent backs. You’ll see people lifting weights bent over, and bend over wrong to place them back on racks.

Integrated Core

The spine is at its strongest, most resilient and most supported position when it is in a state of muscular and skeletal balance, and in a neutral position.

The abdominal brace is an important way to use the core to find neutral position. Bracing, says Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading spine researcher, is a different concept than that of simply holding in your stomach, or “pulling your belly to your spine.” Rather, it’s mild contraction of the abdominal muscles, as though you are preparing for a punch in the mid-section. In his book “Back Mechanic,” he asks his back patients to gradually adjust the amount of contraction to find the optimal stiffness, much like how a dimmer switch gradually adjusts light in a room. Whether you are sitting, walking, or are a high-performance athlete, all movement is orchestrated from this fine-tuned control of the core.

Next time you pick up a package, try to brace your core, hip hinge, and use your gluteus muscles, which help extend the hips to assist in standing up, sparing the lower back from over-use.

Self-Test

Here’s a simple test to see if you have neutral spine alignment, or back sway. Stand barefoot with your back to the wall, with heels, butt and shoulders against the wall. Then try to place one hand, palm down, behind your lower back. If the space is up to and in-line with your second knuckle, you have neutral pelvis. Normally the pelvis is rotated approximately 10 degrees. But if the space is large enough for your whole hand, you have a deviation, an anterior tilt of the pelvis called lumbar lordosis. Tilt the pelvis posteriorly by bringing the front of your waistband up to learn neutral, engaging the core.


Connie Aronson is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist and Corrective Movement Specialist (TBBM-CES) Visit her at www.conniearonson.com and

Instagram @conniearon

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Good posture is relaxed, not forced

Image

Wouldn’t it be nice if our posture was always perfect, vertical and symmetrically balanced? Yet as in life, it’s never that way. When it comes to our posture, many of us tilt, shift, slump, and bend, and it can feel like an uphill battle against the gravitational field of the earth. Yet if your goal is to improve your posture and have a healthy spine, we want to continually practice healthy movement habits. We all have some imbalances, and old habits. Tensing your shoulders, holding your breath, or a forward head are counterproductive not only in weight training, but in any sport.  Tomas Myer in his book Anatomy Trains, writes that everyone has a story, and good stories always involve some imbalance.

Good posture is relaxed, not forced.

Good posture is an easy upright alignment, where the body weights of your head, chest, and pelvis are poised one atop the other, like a stack of colorful wooden building blocks. The spine’s “ home-base” is it’s natural neutral position, where it is in the least stressed position.


The ease of good posture allows for its’ three natural curves; the neck, or cervical spine, the mid-back, or thoracic spine, and the low back, or lumbar spine. Standing or sitting up straight allows for the presence of each of these three natural curves. Beyond looking symmetrical though, there are copious muscles and connective tissue webbing working to support the spine. It isn’t a freestanding pillar, writes Dr. Stuart McGill, Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo and author ofBackMechanic.  Instead, he says, think of it more like a radio tower, a tall metallic structure stabilized by guy-wires that are connected to the ground.  The guy-wires act in the same way that the network of muscles and ligaments that surround our spinal columns do, providing strength and support.

Reminding yourself to pull your shoulders back is only part of the posture picture. Alignment is dynamic, neurologically adaptive, and certainly has an emotional component. Finding out where your muscle tension lives, your neck, for example, is helpful to find that particular pattern that causes the trouble in the first place. It’s known by the “ everything-connects-to-everything-else principle. “ It helps to understand which muscles are shortened or tight, or which emotions might be contributing to that feeling, and how that affects the whole body. 

Using imagery to improve spinal alignment

Using imagery can help you experience an incredible release of muscle tension. The Franklin Method uses imagery metaphorically, and is helpful if you are unfamiliar with anatomy. Here are some images from Eric Franklin’s book Dynamic AlignmentThrough Imagery, to try to help improve your spinal alignment. You just might discover a very fixable imbalance.

Lighting designer aligns the spine (lying, sitting, or standing):

1.Visualize the spine as a chain of spotlights. Turn on all the lights and observe their focal directions. If they shine in many confused directions, adjust them so that they all focus in the sagittal plane. Now adjust them so that they shine with equal brightness.

Head on geyser

2. Imagine your central axis to be a waterspout or geyser. Your head floats effortlessly on top of this column. Visualize your shoulders and your body as the water falls back down to the ground. Allow your head to bob on the top of the column of water. As the geyser become stronger, your head is buoyed upward. Let the power of the water increase the height of your head.


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