Of all my years as a personal trainer... scratch that. Of all my years as a person, back pain has been one of the biggest complaints of the people I come in contact with. It can affect anyone no matter gender, race, age, or profession. Back pain varies from minor to chronic, and can keep anyone from the things they love, cost precious sick days from work, or worse. If you're someone looking to alleviate recurring back pain, prevent future injury, or maybe even avoid prescription medication and surgery, read on.
Injuries, weight gain, and even weak abdominal muscles are among some common causes of back pain, but the most common culprit is bad posture. Too often, people find themselves in spinal flexion or bending forward. Sitting at a desk for long periods of time, bending over repeatedly, lifting heavy objects, standing, and even the way we lay down can all lead to back pain with incorrect posture.
To combat back pain from the aforementioned activities, it's important to keep maintenance of lordosis (see picture below). Lordosis is an inward curve of the spine and is found in the low back, just above the waist. If we lose lordosis often or for long periods of time, back pain can start. In order to keep lordosis, it's important to interrupt prolonged positions by taking a quick walk or a few short breaks throughout the day.
On top of maintaining lordosis, exercise is the key to improving your posture. The pain we feel is often coming from a change in the shape of one or multiple disks in our back. Proper exercise can help those disks return to their original shape — proper disk alignment equals no pain! Exercise is also important for prevention. By building a stronger core we can in turn build a healthier back. A strong core increases stabilization and support for our back. More support means less chance for injury. Plus, who doesn’t want a six pack?
The following everyday exercises are a sure fire way to improve your posture, alleviate current back pain, and prevent pain in the future. It is important to note that these exercises are only recommendations and you should consult your physician before exercise.
Example of proper lordosis.
Exercise One: Slouch Over Correct (Posture)
Sit relaxed in a chair. Draw yourself up and over extend to create lordosis as much as possible. Hold that position for a few seconds, then relax. Perform 3 x a day for 10-15 reps.
Exercise Two: Extension (Rehab)
Position 1: Lie facedown with head to one side. Relax every muscle in the body. Remain here for 2-3 min.
Position 2: Slowly slide the elbows under the shoulders, extending the back. Keep the hips loose. Remain in this position for 1-2 min.
Position 3: Extend the arms and slide hands under the shoulders. Relax the lower body and allow the low back to sag. Hold for 1- 2 seconds and relax. Repeat for 8-10 reps. All three positions should be done 4-6 times a day.
Exercise Three: Bird Dog (Strengthen)
Start on all fours with a neutral spine. Keep neck in line with spine throughout the whole exercise. Contract your abs while slowly lifting one arm and the opposite leg. Hold for 1-2 seconds and return to the starting position. Perform 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps on each side.
Kubey, C., & McKenzie, R. (2014). 7 Steps to a Pain-Free Life. New York: Plume.
Fehrsen-Du Toit, R. (2003). The Good Back Book. [Toronto]: Firefly Books.