By Zuzana Rogers, PT, ScD, SCS, COMT
Specialist Running Physiotherapist
So here we are, in the midst of COVID-19’s global rampage has been causing turmoil for almost everybody on this planet. Many of you have been stuck at home for extended periods of time, to respect social distancing. Unfortunately, back pain does NOT stop while you’re at home, and because of this virus, you can’t go consult your favorite physical therapist to help relieve your back pain. So, I have decided to share this blog with you.
Remember, these are PRINCIPLES and not step-by-step fix all. Everybody is different, low back pain is very complex, so go ahead and try these tips but if you ever feel that these do not work for you or you are getting worse, STOP and contact us or your physical therapist. There’s a great saying that goes: Small hinges swing big doors. And it’s often the simplest advice that wins in the end. Truth is, without knowing your back pain or your history intimately, I cannot tell you which of these will work best for you. And even if I did know the root cause of your back pain, there are no guarantees that any one single strategy will work.
I have been helping my patients with low back pain for over 15 years. I’ve been able to narrow down what generally really does and doesn’t work when it comes to easing back pain. And the 7 principles you’re about to read are included in that.
But imagine this ...how great it would be if you try just one of these “tips” every day...within a few weeks you could have all 7 of these incredibly powerful strategies for easing Back Pain, “in play” and working for you – giving you back the active and healthy lifestyle that you’ve lost, or are in danger of losing.
So here’s my challenge to you ...now that you have this knowledge in your hands, take time every day to try out at least one of these 7 strategies. It really won’t take long and most of them won’t cost you anything but a few minutes of your time.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much better and healthier you will feel for doing so.
1. Avoid Sitting For More Than 20 Minutes At A Time
There’s so much ‘gossip’ that surrounds back pain. But this is FACT...you and I were not designed to sit. It goes against every basic, fundamental rule of the way we originally evolved as humans. When you sit there is approximately 10x more pressure pushing down on your spine than when you stand tall.
And it’s because most of us slouch, or flop when we do sit, meaning that the muscles in your spine (called your core muscle group) that are designed to protect you, just don’t work.
This causes inevitable aches, pains and stiffness.
Even if someone manages to have the “Perfect Posture” (which doesn’t even exist!), they won’t be able to sustain it for any length of time. Our bodies are made to move, and we should move them AT LEAST every 20 minutes.
2. Load and unload your back
Many of you heard me telling you: “Load and Unload your back frequently during the day. What does it mean? Think about your intervertebral discs – they are structures between your vertebrae (back bones) that act as force transmission and shock absorbing structures. With low back pain that is caused by a disc issue, when the disc gets loaded a lot (like sitting for long periods), it becomes painful. What is important, is to unload your painful back after periods of loading. Like this: go for a walk (load) - come home and lay down with your legs up (unload). Work on your computer for 20 minutes (load) – then lean on your desk to give yourself some low back traction (unload). Unloading groceries (load) – lay down for 5 minutes (unload). Get it? You have to do this multiple times per day.
3. Sleep With A Pillow Between Your Knees
Might be difficult at first if you’re not used to this, but if you can persist, it lowers the amount of rotation/ twisting in your spine. It also aligns your pelvis in a better position to decrease the pressure on your lower back.
If you sleep on your side, try a pillow between your legs to keep your spine aligned and this will reduce tension at your lower back. If you sleep on your back, try putting the pillows under your knees instead. Using this strategy will definitely give you a better night sleep, and get you feeling refreshed when you wake up in the morning.
4. Avoid Sleeping On Your Stomach
There isn’t a more effective, faster route to self-inflicted irritation to your spine/lower back. Avoid this position as much as you can! Sleeping on your stomach places a certain amount of strain and pressure on your spine. The reason behind this is the fact that the middle part of your body is exactly where most of the weight is, making it difficult to maintain a neutral position of the spine during the night.
Stomach sleepers are more at risk to develop back pain (and neck pain and shoulder pain!)
5. Change Your Mattress Every 5-6 Years
This is the bedroom question that I get asked every day. People want to know about their mattress and what type they should sleep on. Almost impossible to answer as the question is too generic. But what I can say is that if you haven’t changed your mattress in the last five years then it’s about time that you did!
And invest as much as you can in finding the most comfortable one that works for you. After all, if you’re going to spend a third of your life in it, might as well get the best one that you can.
And the key isn’t to finding a firm one or a hard one - finding the right mattress is about finding the one that works best for you and your spine.
Exercising has been proved over and over again to lower back pain. Moving your body is a sure way to get you on the right path to regaining your mobility and function.
Aerobic exercise has been proven to increase blood flow and nutrients to the soft tissues in the back (muscle, ligaments, nerves...), and therefore, improves the healing process and reduce stiffness that results in back pain. In addition, 30-40 minutes of aerobic exercise increases the body’s production of endorphins, the body’s ‘feel good’ hormones that help reduce or even eliminate pain!
Strength and flexibility exercises are also very important in the managing of back pain. A reduction in core strength can lead to low-back instability, which also reduces flexibility. Doing strength and flexibility exercises has been proven to decrease pain, while increasing the stability and flexibility of the spine. Don’t be afraid to move! It is inactivity that will make your back more painful!
1. Daily Lower Back Exercise Rituals
Closely linked to going to see a good physio – because you want to be sure that any exercises you are doing are right for you and will work. If you can get into the routine or good habit of doing simple stretches and strengthening of your lower back muscles, you will benefit right through your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond. In the same way that you brush your teeth twice per day to keep them clean and avoid pain, you need to look at working on your back in a similar way. Particularly as you’re now in the 30-60 age bracket where your muscles lose strength and flexibility.
2. Avoid Carrying Your Backpack Or Bag On One Arm, Or In One Hand
For this, you’re going to need to completely ‘flip’ everything you’ve likely done for years when it comes to carrying bags. This one is a very common mistake. Carrying a work bag or even shopping bag over one shoulder, means that the weight is not evenly distributed. And the result is one side of your spine is under more pressure than the other. Guess what happens to the side of your body carrying the extra weight all these years? (Likely to be the side you’re feeling the pain most).
4. Stay Hydrated
This is the BIG office worker mistake that could be decreasing your energy. One really simple way to avoid this is to cut out the stuff that makes you dehydrated in the first place. Things like excessive coffee, tea, alcohol and energy drinks will make you dehydrated as a consequence of drinking too much of them.
And being dehydrated can cause muscle aches and pains, fatigue and dizziness. So, it’s important that you keep your water intake up in an attempt to ease off any extra or unwanted tension in your lower back muscles.
My tip, drink a little water often throughout the day.
So, there you have it: 7 things (plus 4 bonus tips) that you can do TODAY to improve your posture, general health, as well as ease your back pain. There’s obviously so much you can do too, and I could go much more in-depth on ways to end back pain than the principles I’ve given you here, but these fundamentals, if you apply them rigorously and are disciplined, will make a huge difference to the quality of your life.
Happy back means happy you!!
Do you want to learn more? Please contact us, we would be happy to answer all of your questions.
Helping recreational and elite Alaskan runners of all ages to return to running safely, effectively and pain-free ...for life.
"Runners’ Edge Alaska Strives To Help Recreational And Elite Alaskan Runners Of All Ages To Return To Running Safely, Effectively And Pain-Free, For Life."