Pre­vent­ing Back Pain

Help pre­vent back pain and pro­tect your spine with these im­por­tant steps

Amazing Wellness - - CONTENTS - By Vera Tweed

Help pre­vent back pain and pro­tect your spine with these im­por­tant steps.

Back pain is the most com­mon chronic pain is­sue in the United States. In fact, 60–80 per­cent of adults strug­gle with it ev­ery day. Back pain most of­ten de­vel­ops from re­peated stresses on joints that sup­port the spine. And while many con­di­tions lead to it, too much sit­ting is a com­mon cul­prit. It leads to mus­cle im­bal­ances and a weak core.

“Some mus­cles be­come overactive, and the other sides of those joints be­come un­der­ac­tive,” says Pren­tiss Rhodes, a mas­ter in­struc­tor for the Na­tional Academy of Sports Medicine. This puts stress on mus­cles, con­nec­tive tis­sue, and joints and can lead to back pain.

Im­prov­ing mo­bil­ity, sta­bil­ity, and strength are all im­por­tant fac­tors in hav­ing a healthy back.

HOW SIT­TING CAN HURT YOUR BACK

Biome­chan­i­cally, the hu­man body is best when it’s mov­ing. Long pe­ri­ods of sit­ting shorten the ham­strings and flat­ten the nor­mal spinal cur­va­ture. Sit­ting doesn’t al­low you to ex­tend your hip flex­ors — the mus­cles you use to raise your knees and bend from the hips — so their range of mo­tion be­comes com­pro­mised, and they be­come tight, while your glute mus­cles be­come weak or in­ac­tive. These mus­cle groups are at­tached to the lower back, and the im­bal­ance cre­ates mis­align­ment in the spine. It’s more likely to hap­pen if your core mus­cles are weak and can’t keep the spine sta­ble.

Rhodes rec­om­mends four types of ex­er­cises to strengthen and stretch your mus­cles to cor­rect im­bal­ances from sit­ting.

1. Hip Flexor Stretches From a kneel­ing po­si­tion, place your left knee on the floor di­rectly un­der your left hip, and place the right foot in front, flat on the ground, di­rectly over the right an­kle and the right knee at a 90-de­gree an­gle. Us­ing your glute mus­cles, gen­tly push your left hip for­ward un­til you feel the stretch. Hold for 5 to 10 sec­onds and re­peat on the other side.

2. Core Strength­en­ers Yoga and Pi­lates classes are of­ten de­signed to de­velop core and spine strength. If that’s not your thing, add planks to your daily rou­tine. The plank is one of the best ex­er­cises you can do for your core be­cause it builds iso­met­ric strength (a static mus­cle con­trac­tion) to help im­prove your pos­ture. Lie face down, with your legs ex­tended and your el­bows bent, di­rectly un­der your shoul­ders. Con­tract your abs (this is the iso­met­ric con­trac­tion), then tuck your toes to lift your body off the ground. You should be in a straight line from head to heels. Hold for 60 sec­onds or as long as you can.

3. Glute Strength­en­ers Most peo­ple don’t think about their glutes beyond how they look in jeans. How­ever, weak and in­ac­tive glute mus­cles con­trib­ute to back, hip, and knee pain. Strength­en­ing this group of mus­cles can lessen pain.

In­cor­po­rat­ing an ex­er­cise called bridge or hip raise into your daily stretches will strengthen glute mus­cles, the back of the thighs (ham­strings), and the core. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, with feet about hip-width apart. Slowly lift your hips, tighten your core, and press your heels into the floor for sta­bil­ity. Make sure the glutes are do­ing the work by squeez­ing them. Avoid push­ing your hips too high; in­stead, aim for a straight line from your knees to your shoul­ders and hold for 20 to 30 sec­onds.

4. Hip Open­ers There are many moves to open hips, but here’s one you can do at your desk: While sit­ting, cross your right leg, with the right an­kle on your left knee. Keep your right leg par­al­lel to the floor, or as close as you can. Gen­tly push down on your right thigh and hold un­til you feel a good stretch. Re­peat on the other side.

CAR­DIO CAN RE­LIEVE BACK PAIN

“Back-friendly car­dio ex­er­cises not only help back pain pa­tients stay more func­tional when dis­com­fort does strike, but can help keep pain flare-ups at bay,” says Kaix­uan Liu, MD, PhD, founder and pres­i­dent of the At­lantic Spine Cen­ter, based in West Or­ange, N.J. Walk­ing, swim­ming, or us­ing an el­lip­ti­cal trainer or sta­tion­ary bike are all good op­tions.

Car­dio pro­motes heal­ing by in­creas­ing the flow of oxy­gen and nutri­ents to the spine, re­duces joint stiff­ness, in­creas- es pro­duc­tion of en­dor­phins — feel-good chem­i­cals — and helps con­trol weight, which re­duces stress on the spine.

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