Top 5 Tips For A Healthier Spine

Posted by Andrea Lawson in Mobility & Flexibity
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It should come as no surprise to you when I say that many people are affected by back pain. You could very well be one of those people.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2010 Canadian Community Health Survey, nearly one in five people working in BC have back problems. In fact, back strain injuries accounted for nearly one-quarter of time-loss claims accepted by WorkSafeBC in the last 10 years. Of these cases, almost all — 98 percent to be exact — were classified as a strain injury. While the remainder were mainly impact injuries. Furthermore, between 2003 and 2012 back strain injuries affected between 12,000 and 15,000 workers in BC. Making back pain the number one reason why people were unable to work during that time period.

Though the stats above are staggering, they highlight a simple truth: back pain is common, can be expensive, and is often preventable if it’s acknowledged and addressed.

Acknowledging then addressing your back pain is the key to recovery. But more often than not I believe that people think that their back pain is normal, and choose to expect it instead of address it.

For example: when I gather medical history information from a new client during their initial assessment, the conversation typically goes something like this:

Client: “I broke my leg in 96. Have sprained my right ankle 17 times. Separate my shoulder when I was 8… Oh! And I have some normal back pain.”

My response: “Normal?”

If you only glean one thing from this post, let it be this: there’s a reason why your back hurts, so whatever you do, never brush it off as “normal” or just a sign of “old age.” If you suffer from back pain, you need to address the issue so that it doesn’t evolve into something more serious.

Here’s the truth.

The Truth About Back Pain

The truth is most of us experience low back pain due to:

  • Poor posture
  • Inactivity
  • Or poor exercise programming

 

All of these variables affect our core strength, muscular balances, and in some cases, our spine in a negative way. The good news however is that all of these variables can be addressed – which is why you should never wait for your back problem to escalate before you do something about it. In my experience, when people learn why they are experiencing low back pain — and know the variables that could potentially be making it worse — dealing with it becomes a very obtainable goal.

Before I go any further I want to make it clear that I, along with any other kinesiologist/personal trainer, DO NOT treat low back pain. However I can help you pinpoint where your back pain is coming from then tailor a training program to your needs so that your pain is reduced and you don’t aggravate your back further. In some cases you can reduce the amount of pain you are experiencing by simply addressing your muscular imbalances, compensation patterns, and knowing your contraindications. If you are in acute or chronic symptomatic pain, please talk to your doctor. If you’d like me to recommend a therapist who can treat these types of injuries, you can also contact me at andrea@balancemotion.com. I would be happy to help you find the right therapist.

Now that we have got that out of the way, let’s dive into 5 things you can do to keep your spine healthy.

 

The Top 5 Things You Can Do For A Healthier Spine

 

1. Address your daily posture, habits and breathing

It should come as no surprise that the 20-30 minutes of corrective exercises that you do per day will not adhere or have a lasting impression on your body if the rest of your day is spent in faulty patterns.

Here are some common issues that I like to get people to start thinking about:

a. Your resting standing position: Try not to lean onto one side, like in the photo below. Instead, when standing make it your goal to stand with your weight evenly distributed between your right and left side.

IMG_5401

 

b. Your sitting posture: I know that this is not going to be perfect all the time — it’s ridiculous to think that you can completely eliminate slouching — but you can consistently remind yourself to sit with better posture. It’s also ideal to get up every 20-30 minutes, (especially if you are currently experiencing pain) to give your back a break.

Fun fact: Did you know that your spine is under a state of compression when sitting, and it takes 2 minutes of standing for it to decompress? Well it’s true, so make sure your stretch breaks are at least 2 minutes long. I would also recommend waiting to pick up anything heavy, (like children, groceries, etc.) until you have been standing for at least 2 minutes.

 

c. Standing up from a chair: When people are in low back pain, watching them get up from a chair makes my back hurt. They lean over to one side, then rotate and push off awkwardly with one hand; which is a habit that will ultimately intensify their pain. To avoid falling victim to this, when standing up from a chair…

  • Place your hands to either side of your bum and position your feet so that you can plant your heels firmly into the ground.
  • Then gently push off with your hands, press into your heels, brace your abs and stand tall.

 

I know this sounds dramatic, but it is how it should be done. Not only will you reduce the chance of irritating your back further, but you will also work on strengthening your legs and core EVERY TIME that you go from a sit to a stand. So get in the habit of standing up like this.

 

d. Learn how to breathe… better: Learning how to breathe properly through your diaphragm is essential for posture and core strength. We breathe on average of 5-15 breaths per minute. Therefore, if you are not breathing with a good pattern you are spending a lot of time adding to your compensation.

Here is a short video demonstrating some techniques you can implement today to improve your breathing pattern.

 

2. Find your core muscles and learn how to activate your glutes

This is a huge area of compensation for many people, so spending time learning how to properly engage your core muscles and gluteal group should become a regular practice – especially if you have a history of low back pain.

Read THIS article to learn more about the importance of your deeper core musculature and how to engage your muscles properly.

 

3. Build up general endurance

If you are suffering from back pain your goal should be to walk for 30-minutes continuously without having any increase in pain during and/or after your walk. If you cannot currently tolerate sustained bouts of activity, then start with a duration of time that is comfortable for you, and slowly build on that. Doing so will help build your overall core strength.

 

4. Strengthen your legs

The stronger your legs are, the less likely you will be to compensate with back muscles when lifting/carrying things – or when going from a sit to standing position. If you are new to strength training start easy with exercises like these:

    • Supine glute bridges

Doing 2 sets of 5 of these holding each for 5 seconds is a good start

    • Sit squats

We recommend 2 sets of 10 reps

    • Lateral step-ups

2 sets of 10 reps

 

Then slowly progress to:

    • Body weight or goblet squats

    • Reverse lunges


 

5. Learn how to deadlift

Deadlifting and low back pain don’t seem like they should be friends, but they are. Learning how to hip hinge is essential to do common activities such as brushing your teeth and emptying/loading the dishwasher. In addition to lifting tasks such as taking out the garbage, picking up a child, or making your wife happy by re-organizing the garage.

So if you master keeping your core braced, and learn how to use your glutes and hamstrings to pull weight off the floor — or make a conscious effort to do so — I guarantee that you won’t “throw your back out” as you have in the past. If you don’t know what a deadlift is, check out THIS post to learn all about it.

 

In Closing

Whether you are currently suffering from back pain or have suffered from it in the past, it’s important to make a conscious effort to keep you spine healthy to prevent future or further injury.

If you have questions about back pain or are currently suffering from it and would like to start actively recovering from it please don’t hesitant to reach out to me at andrea@balancemotion.com. You can also schedule a free assessment with one of our kinesiologists anytime by clicking HERE.

When it comes to pain, understanding the root of it is the key to fixing it. And we’re here to help you do that. ????

Here’s to a stronger and healthier back!

Andrea