Back pain. 85% of people will suffer from it at some point and almost a quarter of folks will be suffering from it right now. It ranges from the mildly irritating and the wildly funny, like me walking around at a 45 degree angle for a week, all the way up to the completely incapacitating. We are bipedal creatures and as any one who has done a proper job on the back can tell you, you can’t do ANYTHING when once your back goes out.
The best way to support your spine is through good posture and a strong core but you can help your core muscles out by not screwing your back up in the first place. So here it is, five things you can do right now to help your back and they won’t cost you a cent!
1. (For the guys) Take out your wallet. Have a look at that thing. If you are anything like me your wallet is a two inch wedge of old cards; coffee club, video store, climbing gym, business card from some guy I met at a conference a few years back, two credit cards, two pieces of ID, three bank cards, ticket stubs, flyers and a massive gaping hole where the cash should be. Try this experiment, take it out of whichever pocket you usually wear it in and stick it in the other. Feels weird doesn’t it? That’s because after so many years of sitting down, walking around and living your life with a leather chock under one ass cheek your whole glute/hip/lumbar spine have evolved around having one side higher than the other. Take it out, put it in your front pocket and next time you go shopping buy a bill-fold. Bill-folds look sexy and when you clean out your wallet you can feel all organised and together.
2. Take your mouse and move it to the other side of the keyboard. You will feel uncoordinated all day – deal with it. Do you get afternoon headaches? Do you have one spot in your upper back, just kinda in between your shoulder blade and your neck that holds tension all the time and hurts a little if you stick your fingers into it and if you do, is it worse on one side? If you stick your fingers into your trapezius (the muscle between your shoulder and your neck) and kinda swing your shoulder around can you feel a little knot, like a marble in there? If you answered yes to any of these questions, congratulations! You are part of the fastest growing neck and spine injury group in the developed world! Go You! And it isn’t going to get any better by itself, you need to address the behaviour that causes it. Better posture, better ergonomics at your desk and getting a better mouse. Some folks like the track ball style, I hate em so I have a wrist support for my mouse pad, it isn’t perfect but it does help. And if you are at the little marble, regular headache, constant semi pain stage, get a massage of the effected area to loosen up the muscle adhesion.
3. Stand your ass up. Seriously, just stand up. If you did nothing else but this the change in your well being, not just your back but nearly everything else would be truly remarkable. They call it the “The Sitting Disease” and a handful of Australian scientist types are at the forefront of measuring its impact. Now I can’t find the actually research paper itself but the conclusions are staggering. Improved circulation, improved blood pressure, improved oxidisation and a massive decrease in reported lumbar spine dysfunction and pain. Stand up for ten minutes in every hour and you will be amazed at the difference in your energy levels by the end of the day. If leaving an alarm on all day to remind you to stand up is too hard or too embarrassing then work it into your normal behaviour. Whenever you are talking on the phone, do it standing. You may not get to 10 minutes in every hour but it will still make a massive improvement in your spinal health and your phone manner will improve and become more lively, just get a hands free kit or you will garrotte the person at the desk next to you with your pacing.
4. Don’t do any more sit-ups. Wow, it actually physically pains me to write that. My strongly held belief is that anyone anywhere that wants to do any exercise of any kind should be encouraged in that and I don’t even care what it is, line dancing, kick-boxing, competitive full contact knitting, I am a massive fan of anything that gets you off your ass. However, I am talking about spinal health and I feel I have to throw this out there. Crunches and sit ups produce load on the spine under flexion and this is really easy way to herniate a disc, strain your erector spinae or just plain old fuck up your back. The easiest way of all to fuck your back is loaded flexion with rotation, like lying on your back with your spine in a “C” shape and bringing alternate elbows to knees like a bicycle. Yea, stop doing that. Most importantly stop doing it in the morning. In the morning you are a little taller due to the fluid in your cartiliginous vertebrae and this extra length increases the leverage on your spinal cord by a massive margin. But Mac, I can hear you say, you make me do sit-ups all the time AND you have made me do those bicycle thingies too! Ah yes, I have but I have also spent a long time watching people do these exercises and I have spent a long time watching YOU do these exercises or ones like them and I am making a judgement call that they are appropriate in your particular case. What I am trying to say with this point is this, and I had best mark this in bold or something. If you have a bad back DO NOT decide to make it stronger by doing heaps of sit ups every morning. Yes you need core strength, no, that’s not the way to get it, don’t do sit ups/crunches for at least 45 minutes after waking up, two hours is a better time frame.
5. Stretch. Your back and your lower back in particular is your body’s answer to all your flexibility issues and just about any flexibility issue will reveal itself in your spine once you start performing larger movements. Golfers with poor hip mobility will blast a ball with their shoulders and then crank the hell out of their lower back as their hip mobility runs out on the follow through. Poor shoulder flexibility leads to excessive arching of the lower spine in overhead pressing movements. Tight hamstrings, weak glutes and tight hip flexors (The Sitting Disease) will all collapse proper form in a deadlift. Why do you care? Picking up the shopping is a deadlift. Putting the shopping away on a high shelf is an overhead pressing movement.