Each day, thousands of people deal with lower back pain. Many of which are in pain without any known cause. This is so common in fact that that medical community has an entire category for this kind of pain: non-specific lower back pain. But is it really non-specific? Often the problem with identifying the cause of an individual’s back pain is thinking of this injury process as being acute in nature. In reality the reason many individuals are diagnosed with non-specific lower back pain is because there is a lack of understanding of the chronic nature of most back pain. In many cases, these injuries are stemming from repetitive stresses in the body that are caused by improper movement. When these stresses accumulate over time, they get to the point where they finally cause pain.
The answer for both prevention and solution of lower back pain are often the same – to treat daily activities and movements with respect and to perform them properly. This mindfulness of movement is termed “spinal hygiene.” Here are three activities that will help you become one step closer to preventing future back pain.
1) Getting Out of Bed
If you were thinking this means you get to hit snooze until 10am, sorry sleepy head. This is referring to HOW you get yourself out of bed. This may not seem like much of a big deal, but when you’ve spent hours without any load on the spine, the first movement in your day is a crucial one.
There are a few reason that getting bed out of correctly is important. First, the intervertebral discs in your spine, which are primarily water filled, rehydrate while you sleep due to the lack of compression while lying down. This means that upon waking, your discs are as thick as they will be all day. If we consider this in terms of fluid pressure this is the time in which the intervertebral discs are under the most hydrostatic pressure.
Most people don’t think twice about how they get out of bed. The most common movement is to just sit straight up and start the day. But the problem is that this movement – which mimics a sit up, places the spine in the very disadvantageous position to stabilize. In fact, not only does the spine have a hard time stabilizing in this position, the act of doing a crunch or sit up creates a large amount of pressure in discs, which is often why many people with back pain are worsened by sit ups.
Considering the information above, it should not be a surprise to you to hear that many Americans get out of bed with pain because of this completely avoidable movement. So what’s the solution? In order to keep the spine in a neutral position and also slowly accumulating the muscles back to movement from its dormancy, I recommend getting up in the morning from a side-lying position. To do this, roll to your side, bring your hips and knees to a 90-90 position and then use your arms to push yourself to a seated position.
In fact, this is movement so important that I recommend getting up in this manner any time you are in a laying position.
Sitting is an activity or position that everyone in modern day society find themselves in. For many, it is the most frequent position they are in on a daily basis. It is also one of the most strenuous positions for your lower back when sustained for long periods. Normally while standing, we distribute forces through the body into the ground by way of the feet. Through Newton’s Third law, an equal amount of force is transmitted from the ground back into the body. When seated, these forces are now transmitted through the low back rather than the feet. This means more strain is placed onto low back.
Furthermore while sitting for long period of time many people have a tendency to slouch which can lead to higher amounts of strain in the muscles of the spine to try to keep the body upright. Because this posture causes long periods of loading and subsequently a process called hysteresis can occur. This causes elongation of the ligaments which stabilize the spine, leading to more instability in the ligaments and stress on the muscles of the spine.
So what is the solution? Since most of our population is sitting while at work, we will address solutions for workplace sitting. Solutions include utilizing ergonomic seats/chairs that create support for the lumbar spine, maintaining a good, neutral posture without rounding at the shoulders while siting, and taking frequent breaks from sitting. Stand up desks are another great way to take breaks during work while still staying productive as well. Alternating between sitting and standing is a great way to avoid the long-term consequences of both activities. Because a lot of the affects of sitting come from static loading over an extended amount of time, the goal of our changes are to change the way the joints are loaded even if for a short period of time.
Breathing is the single most important activity you do. Without air, we die, but breathing has more affects on the body than just providing oxygen. Proper breathing creates a cascade of events that can affect mood, stress, hormonal balance, and for the sake of this conversation, stability in the low back.
You may not realize it, but a very large amount of people breathe incorrectly. The correct mechanism of breathing involves contraction and lowering of the diaphragm to create passive filling of the airways. This diaphragmatic or normal breathing pattern is characterized by an expansion of the belly during inspiration. Abnormal breathing patterns are often a result of what is called chest or “labored” breathing. This type of breathing occurs when an individual forcefully contracts through the scalenes, pec, and other accessory breathing muscles to expand through the chest. One of the most common reasons people end up with dysfunctional breathing is that our societal norm loves the look of a flat stomach and puffed out chest. Unfortunately, this is the exact mechanism that mimics and stimulates labored breathing and can severely compromise your low back stability.
So how do we fix this? Unfortunately, many times we have developed this pattern over years and years of improper breathing, so this one is often difficult to accomplish in a short period of time. The best way to address this properly is to get help from a health care or fitness professional who is competent recognizing and fixing dysfunctional breathing patterns. Because this is a pattern that has been going on for a very long time, it is often hard for an individual to not only realize that they are breathing incorrectly, but equally as hard to understand how to change that pattern. One of the tools we use at Hybrid Performance Group to address this issue is Reflexive Performance Reset or RPR. This method is geared towards addressing the neurology behind your improper breathing patterns and helps fix compensations that might be causing dysfunctional breathing.