Our movement defines us. Our habits, genetics, and occupation define our movement. Unfortunately, we’ve become a sitting society that spends little time exercising. You cannot affect your genetics and most have little control over their occupational obligations but what can you affect? Your habits.
Our postural and movement habits can significantly change the way you move and function. Particular postures labeled Protective Spine Postures protect the spine from high loads and damaging shearing forces. Avoiding these forces is important for both the prevention and curing of low back pain.
In some instances, relieving your pain isn’t as much of medication, exercise, or surgical, it’s simply ceasing the activities that cause tissue irritation. Identifying these activities can pay huge dividends in improving your quality of life. As I tell my patients, “If I come and punch you in the arm every day and you answer with exercise, ice, rest, Advil, etc you may feel better in the interim, but the pain will inevitably return on the next punch, often worse than before. You need me to stop punching you in the arm for those other things to work.” Identifying these “punches” in your every day life is a must to fully benefit from treatment. Consider these situations:
Getting Out of Bed
The old heave-ho of lifting both feet in a violent sit-up motion every morning is exposing your back to damaging forces. There is little worse for back patients than starting their day in agony from thrusting themselves to an upright position every morning. In fact, most of them avoid it because they cannot tolerate it. Why wait for pain? Stop doing it today.
Log roll yourself onto your side, drop your legs over the edge, and push up into a sitting position. This will keep a more neutral spine and decrease the shear forces on your back.
Whether it’s lifting at work or at home, you need to protect yourself. A large number of low back injuries occur while lifting. When you bend and reach, for example, the discs in your back are exposed to nearly 400% increases in pressure. I’m sure we all know someone who “threw their back out” lifting a pencil. Add on the retrieval of weighted bag of groceries and you’re asking for it. Lifting a light object or a heavy object is all the same–protect your spine.
You want to keep a protected spine posture that maintains a small arch in your low back. A combination of bending from the waist and knees is important. Glide your hips backwards and away from you as if you were throwing a hip check. This posture protects your back while allowing your powerhouse glutes to assist you in the lift. It may also be helpful to contract your abdominals to help stabilize your spine.
You might be interested to know that your spine is exposed to less force while standing than sitting, just ask any disc patient who prefers to stand and walk vs. sit. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the population is bound to an occupation that requires prolonged static posturing. This goes back to the punch in the arm analogy above. A clinician can give you all the best exercises but if you offset it with 40+ hours a week (not to mention the added time at home) of poor sitting mechanics or positioning you’re likely to see little to no success with rehab or other interventions.
You likely can’t change your work setup, but small adjustments can make a huge difference. The back of the chair is there for a reason. Use it. You may wish to add a pillow to the back of chair for added support. The worst thing you can do is hang out on the front edge, squinting fiercely to read the monitor. Maintaining good posture while sitting takes an element of awareness and strength. A simple shoulder blade squeeze can help align you to an ideal posture. With practice & awareness it will slowly become an automatic habit, correcting your posturing subconsciously throughout the day.
Our body is designed to move in a specific way. Our habits, genetics, and occupation all affect this movement. Protective spine postures are a great way to prevent and heal low back pain.
If you, your employers, or a friend need help identifying these or other postural habits contact any of our locations for an evaluation. We can teach your proper movement along with a individualized exercise program for better movement.