Helpful Strategies To Reduce Back Pain and Improve Posture
Back pain is one of the most common reasons to miss a day of work, and in most cases the cause of the pain is mechanical – meaning poor posture, muscle imbalances, strength, flexibility, and faulty bio-mechanics are the reason we hurt.
In the US $50 billion, or more, is estimated to be spent on back pain! And experts believe that 80% of people will experience a back problem at some point in their life.
Manipulations, massage, acupuncture, pain pills, back braces, shots, and surgery all have their place and can be utilized to alleviate pain or manage chronic back problems. But if you were given the choice to invest your hard earned dollars in something that provides only temporary relief for back pain, or instead invest in gaining the knowledge, strength, flexibility, and fitness to manage your own health to enjoy a pain-free and active life without pills or potential surgery, which would you choose?
It seems that most people these days are looking for a “quick-fix.” In today’s fast-paced world, nobody wants to stop, yet back pain is the number one reason for a missed day of work. And how easy is it to just ignore the pain and continue on? What’s your mood like? How do your eating habits change when you hurt? How much sleep are you able to get every night? How is this affecting your relationships? How about your “fun” or recreational activities? What becomes your #1 focus in life? Is it feeling and dealing with back pain? How many hours, minutes, and seconds is your brain saying – “ I wish my back didn’t hurt.” “I’ll do anything to stop this pain.” How much money and time are you willing to invest in solving the problem and getting the pain to go away for good?
This past June I met Rosie, she commented that she’d injured her back during an exercise class in April and had been afraid to exercise ever since. It hurt to stand, sit, walk, and move. She thought she’d just wait, rest, and hope that it got better, but almost 3 months later things still weren’t resolving… She didn’t think it was a big enough deal to go to the doctor, and sooner or later it would be fine Well when we hurt do we want to feel better sooner, or later?
Usually it’s the desire for sooner, which is why a pain pill, shot, or surgery seems like a good option. I believe that a contributing factor to chronic pain and problems, is because we are patiently waiting for “later” and in the process, create so many compensation habits for movement, that we actually contribute to keeping our bodies in pain.
I’m all for a great manipulation. Chiropractors, Osteopathic Physicians, and even a great massage therapist or body worker can do us a lot of good to relive stress, and help balance and re-align the body, but what are YOU doing to keep the right muscles strong, and joints flexible to maintain great posture, muscle balance, and good bio-mechanics for functional movement?
You can get some pretty amazing results quickly for better body support with the right exercises, knowledge, and expertise. And of course putting these new and improved posture and movement habits into practice during your daily life activities as well as during your workouts will ensure that back pain becomes a far, distant memory, rather than something you have to deal with everyday.
Our bodies were designed to move. There is nothing that makes a body feel better than physical activity. Do you realize that the human body has approximately 206 bones in our skeleton. That’s a lot of levers to hinge, bend, and articulate for healthy movement. The muscles that are attached to these bones contract and release which is what supports the body for good posture, and what moves the body to walk, run, sit, stand…everything we do.
There are approximately 650 muscles in the human body. An exact number is difficult to pinpoint, as some muscles are not always present, and some sources group muscles differently. But regardless, that’s a lot of parts and pieces to keep in balance and control for good health.
If you think about it… if even one small bone is out of alignment in your foot (there are 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments in each foot) it will affect not only the proper muscle action at the foot, but will create compensation patterns for every other muscle group in your entire system. It’s possible that your back pain may be directly related to a problem all the way down at the bottom of your foot! How often do you take the time to specifically do exercises to keep the muscles of your ankles, arches and toes working to keep your feet fit?
And our feet are just a small portion of the body that needs to be in balance. Our muscles work in opposition to each other. If we are in pain, the brain says, “stop using this muscle, it hurts.” But still needing to get around, go to work, make it through the day, we find other muscles (that shouldn’t really be doing the work) to get the job done. Use these incorrect muscles a couple of times, or for a week or longer, and the brain re-sets, accepting these new (wrong muscles) as the ones to always recruit and use for whatever the task is you need to accomplish.
So the “wrong” muscles get stronger, and stronger. And the muscles that really should be working for us get weaker, and weaker. Can you see how this can be a contributing factor to poor posture, bad body mechanics, and back pain?
Remember Rosie, who’d spent the past three months with excruciating back pain? Well after a quick posture assessment to identify how her standing posture habits were affecting / contributing to the problems, and learning how to find a few key muscle groups she hadn’t been using, within fifteen minutes, she came up to me and said, “You are amazing, my back already feels better!”
Becoming more aware of the muscle support we need standing still is critical to getting the right muscles to work when we move. This introduction to better body mechanics and good posture helped Rosie realize how much SHE could be doing to be proactive and a part of the solution to help alleviate her back pain. When I spoke to her a month later, she still had zero back pain, but also realized that she had to work on improving her fitness, and needed to develop an at-home exercise program, (for her feet, legs, hips, core, and well every single part and piece of her body,) to improve her whole-body health and ensure that she would not have future problems with back pain. Getting started and investing in herself for this was a no-brainer, because she’d already experienced how much of a difference becoming “intentional” with her posture habits had helped improve her health.
If you’re experiencing back pain, here are five critical questions to consider:
- How important is maintaining your good health?
- How is your back pain limiting what you want to do in life?
- What is it costing you today to deal with the frustration of living with back pain?
(lost work hours, lost sleep, weight gain/loss, other health problems,
medications, medical expenses, other issues)
- What are the long-term costs and expenses of living a life in pain?
- How much time and energy are you committed and willing to invest in you?
Taking the initiative to improve posture, body alignment, muscle strength, balance, flexibility, and functional movement habits with the right exercises and a training program can be a priceless investment in your long-term, pain-free, whole-body health.
Take the first step… towards reducing back pain and enjoying better health. Become more aware of your current posture habits with this quick Posture Self-Assessment Quiz
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