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Back Pain Does Not Have to be a Part of Your Daily Life.
According to a study conducted over 14 years in North Carolina, nearly 80% of the population studied suffered from back pain. The study found that low back pain is one of the most common causes of lost workdays. At the time of publication, the estimate was 149 million workdays were lost annually to low back pain. During the study, there was a 10% increase in patients suffering from back pain.
With the sheer numbers of people suffering from back pain, it is likely that you or someone you know will experience it, too. There are several factors that can contribute to back pain, like age and weight, pregnancy and fitness level. There are also several physical causes that contribute to back pain – like sciatica, herniated discs, and traumatic injuries.
While it can be difficult to predict what will happen to your body, there are things you can do to protect yourself. There are several things you can do to protect your body from back pain:
- Watch your posture
- Lift objects correctly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid heavy backpacks, wallets, and purses
- Wear comfortable clothing
But, one of the most beneficial things you can do for your back is to exercise regularly. While much attention is paid to the idea that a “six pack” is proof of a strong core, the muscles that provide the most support for the core – including the low back – are beneath the rectus abdominis muscles.
The muscles that provide deep support for the low back include extensor muscles, flexor muscles, and oblique muscles. The extensors are involved in lifting and include the erector spinae muscles that support the spine. The flexor muscles are involved in flexing, lifting, and bending the spine. The oblique muscles are on the sides of the body and help the spine rotate. All of these muscle groups are responsible for maintaining supportive posture. The muscles can be challenging to exercise, simply because of their location in the body.
One of the most useful exercises designed to protect the back from experiencing back pain is Bikram Yoga. This is a highly structured yoga practice that involves a set series of posture and breathing exercises. Bikram Yoga is held in a room heated to between 105°F with 40% humidity. The class is 90 minutes in length. Every class includes the same dialogue and posture and they are all designed to move the spine and to stretch and strengthen the muscles that provide deep core support. This form of yoga does not have any impact, making it a gentle form of yoga – despite the heat.
Swimming and Water Aerobics
Another helpful exercise for the low back is swimming. This is another low impact choice that works the whole body. Swimming is one of the best aerobic activities for people who are looking to avoid back pain because the water provides necessary support for the back. To fully protect the back, it is best to avoid any stroke or activity that requires the body to twist. The best strokes to help prevent back pain is the backstroke and a pulling activity. If you do want to work the upper body and low back with a pull drill, you will need a pull buoy that you place between your legs to stabilize them while you use your arms only. Many of the traditional strokes, like breaststroke and the crawl, can put pressure on the low back. Even treading water and attending water aerobics classes can help strengthen the body.
Go for a Walk
If you do not have access to a Bikram Yoga studio or a pool with lap swim or water aerobics classes, then there are several things you can do to strengthen your back on your own. One of those is walking, at a brisk clip if possible. Walking is better for the back than sitting in a chair or resting in bed. In a study of nearly 6000 adults over the age of 50 in Korea, researchers found that walking reduced low back pain. Some of the people who participated in the study began with low back pain, but did not have it after regularly walking for a set amount of time. Similar studies have found the same results.
There are two beneficial exercises that anyone can do at home to help prevent low back pain. These do not require special equipment like a bicycle. You can even do these exercises barefoot, too.
Bridge Pose on Your Back
The first beneficial exercise is the bridge pose. In this exercise, you end up working the glutes, which help support the low back. You begin by laying on the ground, bending the knees, and putting the feet below the knees. It is ideal to have the legs spread hip-distance apart. You put your arms along the side of your body, then press your feet firmly into the floor and lift your rear end off of the ground so your knees extend straight out from the hips. In bridge, you engage the glutes while the shoulders stay on the floor. After three seconds, lower the hips. Repeat 10 to 15 times. As you build strength, you can do several sets.
Cat-Cow Pose Connected to the Breath
Another beneficial exercise is called cat-cow pose. This is often taught in yoga classes and it is performed on all fours, with the hands on the floor, the arms straight, and the knees bent. This set of poses stretches the back of the body and the front of the body. You begin by inhaling and lowering the belly toward the floor – like a cow.
Then, as you exhale, you lift the low back up toward the sky, round the spine like a cat. You move between the poses as you inhale and exhale. To get the full extension of the poses, press your big toenails into the floor, too. This series can loosen the back and feels fantastic after you’ve been sitting for too long. Remember to engage your belly muscles, especially when you enter into cat pose.
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. has been a chiropractor for over 20 years and has treated thousands of patients. He founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998 and is a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.