I vividly remember the day about 10 years ago… I stepped out of the shower, bent wrong and my back went out. Sure, I’d experienced a sore and stiff back occasionally, but this had never happened to me before and it hurt. A lot!
Since that time, keeping my back healthy and flexible has become a priority and part of my daily routine. There are many wonderful resources online and with some research you can move yourself closer to back health and pain-free living too. For me, it took patience, persistence and good information, but I’m happy to say I mostly live without discomfort or pain in my back.
Here are 3 tips that helped me heal my back and keep it strong that can help you too…
#1: Pay attention to your posture…but not in the way you might think.
The advice to “stand up straight” and “stick your chin up and chest out” may not actually be wise if you want strengthen your back and keep it healthy. Forcing yourself into a straighter posture can actually distort the spine and tighten your back muscles even more than they already are. The “chin up, chest out” posture hampers the circulation of blood flow and dangerously exaggerates the curves of your back.
Notice how you usually sit, stand and even sleep. How does it compare to this suggested healthy posture?
- Head and neck should be in alignment with the spine instead of stretched forward or rigidly back.
- Shoulders should be softly back and not up in the direction of the ears or hunched forward.
- The pelvis should be in a neutral position. It is neither tucked up nor arched backward.
#2: Strengthen your core
Just about every case of a “bad back,” is at least partly due to weak core muscles in the back, abdomen and buttocks. The best way to strengthen your core muscles is to regularly stretch and exercise them. Start at your current fitness level and build from there. Try yoga, pilates or simple core-strengthening exercises like these:
- Pelvic tilt : Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Breathe in deeply and slowly. As you exhale, use your abdominal muscles to move your lower back to the floor (decreasing the space between the floor and the curve of your back). Breathe again and, as you exhale, slowly reverse the move and bring your spine into a neutral position.
- Knee to chest : Lie on your back with one leg stretched out straight (horizontal with the floor and, if possible, a few inches from the floor) and the other leg bent at the knee. Using your hands on the bent-knee leg, gently pull your knee toward your chest as you keep the other leg straight. Remember to breathe and exhale as you pull one knee in and then switch legs and repeat .
Set a do-able back fitness goal for yourself and then stick with it. Increase the number of repetitions you do each day as you get stronger.
#3: De-stress your life
As you probably already know, stress and emotional upset can cause you to hold your body stiff and tight which can be a major contributor to back pain. Honestly assess your current habits . What stresses you out? Which of your thoughts and beliefs create tension and tightness in your mind that then shows up negatively in your body?
Maybe it’s your tendency to say “yes” to any request that your employer, family, friends and others make when, on the inside, you feel exhausted, overwhelmed and over-scheduled .
Maybe it’s the way that you put yourself down and tell yourself that you are inadequate, ugly, untalented or worthless.
Maybe it’s your attempts to control all aspects of your life and even the lives of people around you.
There may have been a time when these stress-inducing habits made some sense; ask yourself if they are truly serving you now.
As you start to incorporate a new posture or core-strengthening exercises into your daily life, be sure to also learn new strategies to release stress and to build self esteem and confidence.
Please consult with your health care provider with any questions or concerns and do your research. Find solutions that fit your body and condition as well as your lifestyle and then stick with them– every day and not only when you’re starting to tense or stiffen up.
For more information about how to keep your back healthy, check out these sources: