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

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_9e3c776e-e5b7-11eb-a0ba-5730f013cbf7.html

Three exercises to keep your shoulders healthy

Fitness guru

All -star pitcher Pedro Martinez was one of the lucky players to return to the major leagues after a complete rotator cuff tear, typically a season-ending injury. The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. Over time, damage to the rotator cuff can become significant because of the stress placed on these structures.

You don’t have to be a world-class pitcher to have shoulder problems. Ideally, we want our shoulders open and back. The shoulder girdle is unique in that it has few joints, but many muscles that attach to the upper back, as well as the chest and arms. The upper back region is important in shoulder health, as the lower trapezius, rhomboids, and rotator cuff muscles stabilize and retract the shoulder blades.

To understand how the upper back coordinates with the shoulder, notice if you raise your shoulder when moving your arm. Notice if you tighten or raise your shoulders to turn your head to look over your shoulder when driving.

Professional baseball players have to manipulate their bodies in an incredibly complicated way to throw at astounding speeds. On the mound, pitchers have to work with asymmetries in the body, using one side of the body for many, many repetitions. Their training must involve unwinding the damage caused by this imbalance and make both sides of the body function well. For the rest of us, at play and during the day, we can train and be aware of symmetry in our upper backs and shoulders.

Her are three exercises for proper functioning of the upper back and shoulders.

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W Stretch || Photos by Connie Aronson

1.    W Stretch. Stand up, with your core engaged. Pull the shoulders down and back. Externally rotate and fully extend the arms. You should feel it in the chest and front of the shoulder. The W stretch strengthens the rhomboids, traps and external rotators of the shoulder and arm. Hold 20-30 seconds, 2-3 times per day.

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2.    A’s on the ball. Lie on your chest on a ball, legs straight with feet firmly on the floor. The arms are straight and close to the body, resembling the letter “A.” Raise and lower the arms, externally rotating the arms from the shoulder so that the thumbs point out and up. Throughout the exercise, keep shoulder blades down and back, chin gently pushed back. Ten reps.

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3.    T’s on the ball. Lie on your chest on a ball, legs straight with feet firmly on the floor. Raise the arms to form a T position, palms down, then lower arms. Throughout the exercise, keep shoulder blades down and back, chin gently pushed back. Ten reps.


Connie Aronson is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist and Corrective Exercise Specialist (TBM-CES) Visit her at www.conniearonson.comand Instagram@conniearon

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_9606c44c-cfae-11eb-8de5-cbf3271af76c.html

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Photos by Connie Aronson

The Dead Bug, aka Happy Baby, is a core move you should be doing

The Dead Bug helps train the core muscles to be strong and enhance spinal stability.

Obtaining a strong core can be surprisingly easy. Even better, there are excellent exercises that you can do lying on your back, using a simple band as a progression. One of the best exercises taught by strength and team coaches, yoga teachers, Pilates instructors and the sports medicine community is the Dead Bug, also known as Happy Baby. The base move is an isometric bracing action, as if you’re readying to take a punch to the belly, which promotes core stability and strength in your torso. Progressions or regressions are then tailored to your abilities and fitness level.

In Dead Bug, the reciprocal arm and leg patterns, like a dying bug on the ground, resemble motor skills like walking, running and swimming. (Or a happy baby lying in a crib, arms and legs akimbo)

The key muscles you work during the Dead Bug primarily focus on the core musculature, the powerhouse of the body. Picture the muscles forming its structure of floor, walls and ceiling. This includes the erector spinae, the deep low back muscle known as multifidus, hip adductors, rectus abdominus and the internal and external obliques. Exercises like this enhance spinal stability by training the deep postural muscles that protect you while you play the sports that you enjoy. Core stability, or trunk stiffness, allows you to transfer force to your limbs so that you throw, strike, kick, push, swing or run better. In other words, all motions are generated from the core and are translated to the extremities.

Our nervous system prefers to move with the most efficiency at all times. If your core is weak, most likely your brain will want to make it easy for you, and compensate. But over time, the compensation will create greater degrees of wear and tear. For example, slouching and leaning on handles on a stair climber or treadmill will make it much easier. But the wear and tear is more likely to be around your neck and shoulders. This can result in even worse posture, as a weak core encourages slumping, which tips you forward and off balance.

It’s often thought that repetitive flexion and extension exercise, like the good old sit-up, are a good way to train the core. But these muscles are rarely used in this way because they are more often used to brace while stopping motion. Researchers found that disc injuries can develop through even low-compressive forces with excessive bending and extending. An isometric exercise like the Dead Bug helps train the core muscles to brace under heavy loads, which helps stabilize the spine and in turn prevents buckling.

Dead Bug/Happy Baby

Start by lying on your back. Your spine should not be arched or flattened. Draw the abdominals in to assume the neutral position.

Reach your arms up. Lift your legs off the floor, holding a 90-degree angle at your hips and knees.

Move your arms back and forth (like a baby reaching up to play with a mobile) Duration: 30 seconds. Progression: Extend your arms and legs towards the floor, creating longer levers to increase the level of difficulty. Click on the video to see more progressions: vimeo.com/389162099.


https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_9d47b746-490b-11ea-8988-9fc27539e035.html

Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

Good posture is relaxed, not forced

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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.


https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_aa648d9e-5188-11e9-9360-1381d385e740.html

Extend your spine~ The Roman Chair for back health

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Our spines need to be subtle and strong

When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, the lower back reigns as king. About 80 to 85 percent of people will experience some sort of low back pain in their life. According to the National Health Statistics Survey in 2012, more than 28 percent of Americans live with lower back pain. Back troubles are the No. 1 reason people under age 45 miss out on activities.

Ironically, most people with low back pain overuse their backs, exacerbating the trouble even more. It’s better to use your legs to bend or squat down, or to use your hips in rotational sports like golf or yoga to spare stresses on your lower back.

Our spines need to be supple and strong, as daily tasks demand that the vertebrae bend, flex, rotate and side bend. The spine does an amazing job of handling loads straight down the back, but over time, poor mechanics repeated hundreds of times in daily life and activities can cause low back pain. Even more problematic is our forward bending posture, especially with aging. It seems we’re all forgetting to stand up and extend our spines. Our preference for slumping, sitting or driving is very hard on our back ligaments, and at worst, it becomes structural, resulting in bad posture or back problems. The end result is that greater compressive forces are placed on the intervertebral discs.

If you go to a gym, there is an overlooked piece of gym equipment to help strengthen your back. Typically used as a place to hang your gym towel, the Roman chair, looking somewhat like a stand, can isolate and strengthen the spine extensor muscles.

Exercises such as squats and deadlifts help strengthen your back, but the larger hip extensor muscles do much of the work. The lumbar extensors, multifidi (the deepest muscles near your spine) and the quadratus lumborum are the important muscles for spine health, as they help provide stability in the area of the spine most prone to injury. Think of your spine as two stacked boxes, called the vertebrae, with lots of padding between them—the discs, where most back problems begin. The natural curves of your spine help the discs cushion compressive forces.

Any exercises you do should keep spine stability in mind, and be done with muscle control rather than momentum. Avoid excessive range-of-motion movements that damage spinal ligaments or discs. End-range extension, or forceful hyperextension, places the posterior elements of the spine at risk of damage, especially with spinal stenosis or sports hernia.

 To use the Roman chair, you lie face-down, with the back of your ankles supported, and your navel in line with the edge of the pad. Round your back over the pad, slowly extend your torso parallel to the floor so that you are horizontal from your heels to head, hold for one second and lower for three seconds.  ( View video IMG_3055 )
Published in the Idaho Mountain Express June 30, 2017

Slouch No More

Over time, slouching can be a pain in the neck. At any given time, neck pain affects about 10 percent of the adult population in the U.S. Our heads can be a heavy load, so much so that many of us have lost proper alignment because our heads are too far forward from the rest of the spine. The consequences of your head hanging off the front spine, called forward head syndrome, can result in shoulder and rotator cuff problems, neck aches, headaches, back spasms and poor breathing patterns, all fixable problems.
Forward head syndrome is the first sign that muscle imbalances are present. This causes the front muscles, pectoralis and subscapularis, to become tighter and the muscles around the shoulder blades to become lengthened, both factors limiting the muscles’ functioning. You can assess forward head posture by having a friend look at your posture from the side. A neutral head is rooted firmly, like a tree, in the “ground” of the upper back with the ear aligned with the center of the shoulder.
Now face a mirror. Are your palms, or one more than the other, turned inward? If so, your shoulders are most likely slouched. Opening your hands so that the palms open in front and you can instantly correct some of your slouching.
The key to change is to become aware of old habits creeping in again.
As much as sitting in front of computers and television can be blamed for our heavy hanging heads, the root of the problem isn’t just that. Of course we would want to also look at the rest of the body to see if the cause may be coming from somewhere else. But overall, weak, tight muscles can inhibit moving well, as there is a rich dynamic inherent in the control of posture so that it is relaxed, not work. Ideal standing posture places the body’s joints in a state of equilibrium with the least amount of effort to maintain this upright position.

RX: Sitting upper-back strength exercises:
The cervical neck, seven vertebrae, blend into the thoracic region of the spine. This area supports the head and is an important attachment point for several muscles that support the middle back. You know them, as this is where stress builds up, in the levator scapula, rhomboids and the upper and middle trapezius. The following exercise can improve neuromuscular control and stabilize the spine:
Sit against a wall with your knees bent and firmly press your back, buttocks and shoulders into the wall. Pull your abdominals in to brace your core. Raise your
arms to shoulder level, bending your arms so that they are parallel to the floor and the backs of your upper arms rest against the wall. Gently press the back of your head into the wall, keeping your chin level. Exhale and firmly squeeze your shoulder blades together while
pressing the backs of your arms and shoulders into the wall. Hold for five to 10 seconds, relax, and repeat four times. You can also do this exercise lying on the floor, or advance it by combining it with a wall squat.

RX: Imagine this (sitting, standing or supine) (adapted from “Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery” by Eric Franklin )
Try resetting what standing or sitting straight feels like by visualizing the spine as a chain of spotlights. Turn on the lights and observe their focal directions. If they shine in many confused directions, adjust them so that they all focus in an even plane. Now adjust them so that they shine with equal brightness.

The key to change is to become aware of old habits creeping in again. Healthy shoulders require proper posture, good flexibility and good strength about the scapular region.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine health and fitness specialist. http://www.mtexpress.com/index2.php?ID=2005145909#.UQyHaaXJDzJ

Visit her at www.conniearonson.com.