Ouch! Beat Back Pain Now

By Martin Brown

Most back pain is rooted in poor posture. But in reality there is good reason for us to lean forward.

For one thing our eyes point forward and nearly everything we do, or want to do, is in front of us. The keyboard I’m typing on at this moment is in front of me. The cup of tea you’re reaching for is in front of you. From picking stuff up to walking forward, our world is in front of us and so we tend to slump forward as we reach out to claim our part of that world.

The very word “posture,” stirs memories of a demanding grandmother who annoyed us to no end when we were teens by telling us to: “Stand up straight!” But imagine that in place of the word posture you used the word “alignment,” it now takes on a new and more important meaning. It makes perfect sense that without proper alignment we cannot avoid certain long-term problems.

Alignment issues cause imbalances in the basic system of movement that the body naturally seeks to relieve. In doing this it causes what is known as “postural distortion,” which is simply the body using alternative methods of support and taking us down the road to muscle fatigue, restricted use, and unexpected injuries.

The most obvious counter to postural distortion is to be aware and vigilant not just of how you stand but how you sit. The desk chair that you spend hours in every week can be critical to maintaining a healthy back. You should be able to adjust the height of the chair so that your feet rest comfortably on the ground. Again, seems simple, but you’d be amazed by how many women don’t do this and the imbalance it creates is an invitation to problems. And if your chair does not support the natural curve of your back you should bring in a towel or pillow from home that rolled or tucked into place can lend needed support.

The truth, however, is that the way we live and work encourages back pain. The counterbalance to our lifestyles is some wonderful stretches that will give your back additional support. One of my favorites is called “Climbing Rope.” Tilt your head up slightly then reach far up with your left hand, then take your right hand and reach even further as you climb your imaginary rope. Visualize each movement to insure the body will respond by fully extending the spine. Pull your navel in toward your spine (a movement called “drawing in”) to get the ultimate lift from your body’s core. Do three to four repetitions, switch the order of your hands and repeat the same set.

One more simple standing exercise you can do at any time, in the office or at home, is to simply clasp your hands behind your back and now with your fingers interlocked slowly lift your arms back to the point at which they resist. Don’t push beyond that point, but let your extended arms stay in that position for a moment, and then bring them back to their starting position and repeat the move.

One more marvelous stretching release for your spine that you can do at home is commonly known as the “Cobra.” You begin by lying face down on a yoga mat and then extend your back upwards by lifting your upper body with your elbows, keeping your hips and legs on the mat. Thereby you have created a pronounced arc in your back, essentially a move that is the opposite of leaning forward. A more advanced form of the cobra is to do almost the same move but arcing yourself up on your facedown palms and allowing your hips now to move up off the mat as well while keeping your legs from the thighs down on the mat. This move actually encourages a misaligned spine to correct itself moving discs back into their proper alignment.

Doctor visits and lost work days can cost a small fortune, but good illustrated books on stretching often cost less than the price of a single movie ticket. If you don’t stretch or do yoga now take the time to read and learn more about it. Over a lifetime we ask a lot of our backs, they are deserving of our thought and support.

Next week, I’ll return to the topic of posture and back pain when we take a closer look at shoes that can help you not only look but also feel like a million bucks.


Martin Brown is the Heath Channel Editor for SingleMindedWomen.com, and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right.

His next book, Fit in 50 Days, will be available May 2011.