According to the AHW 1 in 6 Australians are affected at some time in their lives by back pain and I know from first hand experience the debilitating effect it can have on your life. Although there are some very serious medical reasons for back pain, many forms of back pain can be avoided by implementing a few mindful steps in how we take care of ourselves. Common causes include weight gain, poor posture, poor foot alignment and carrying children, not to mention more surprising culprits such as poor footwear choice and tight muscles.
For several years I suffered sometimes excruciating pain. I couldn’t workout, run and for some of the time, even walk without assistance. Although my circumstances were quite severe, I discovered that as happy (I am joking ) as I was to spend literally thousands of dollars on therapy and remedial massage, much of it could have been prevented in the first place if I had simply been more mindful.
Here are a few simple tips that may help you in your quest for a pain free back!
1. Thongs / Support-less Footwear
Thongs (aka flip-flops), Ugg boots, slippers and heals of course can be a huge factor in giving us backache.
This was a complete revelation to me!
I had always worn quality sports shoes, but limited their wear to mainly well …..sports, until my first session with my osteopath who was quick to make me where them for 80% of the day.
I was 6 months pregnant and wearing Ugg boots, which was not unusual for me considering I felt and looked like a whale. But it was shoes like this, along with (fat feet accomodating) thongs and other support-less shoes that were causing crippling pain referral pain in my hips, knees and back. I had no idea how much damage I was doing.
By wearing shoes with no back, ankle or arch support my toes were literally gripping the soles of my shoes to “hang on” to them. This long term gripping action can play hell with your joints, add into that relaxin from pregnancy and breastfeeding and you can really start to suffer.
What is more, shoes that are heeled or of that have no instep can also be a huge factor in causing pain. Accupoints in the arch of the foot are directly linked to the spine, and failure to support this area causes it to become weak, lose and very pained.
If this sounds familiar to you, take to wearing sports shoes and trainers to help your feet. Using trigger point balls on the soles of your feet can also be of a huge effort, just roll them when you are watching TV or working at your desk.
2. Kid Carrying
I know it comes with the territory of having kids, but carrying them can cause crippling pain in your back not to mention your other joints, namely hips and knees.
Our body compromises so much in order to carry this weight and as lovely or “easy” as it might be to carry your child, it can leave you with an agonising price to pay.
If you really can’t get out of constantly carrying them, try and be mindful, engage your core when you do it to take some of the pressure off your back and switch sides. As a left hip carrier I try to alternate to my right to balance the stress of the 15Kg weight on my body, spread the love so to speak.
Be mindful and conscious of how much you actually carry your child. Often we do it out of habit and let the action go on auto pilot. Be aware of what you are doing and reduce it. It is no easy feat I know, but the agonising pain can be a hefty price to pay. Use your stroller or if they are of walking age make them walk, tire them out at the same time!!!
1 in 6 Australians are affected at some time in their lives by back pain
3. Core Strength
So many of us suffer with back pain purely because our core muscles are so weak.
The core is made up of not only the abdominal muscles, but the lower back, waist or obliques, hip flexors, glutes and the pelvic floor.
It is absolutely essential all these muscles work in harmony together.
Childbirth definitely takes a heavy toll on these muscles, (mine are severely separated), but for the majority of us, we should be able to reclaim much of the strength in our core.
Kegel or pelvic floor exercises should never be overlooked, particularly if you had a vaginal birth. They don’t take very long to do and will help you later in life when things head further south!
Our core is involved in absolutely everything, from walking to sitting to even going to the loo, yet it is often an area of our body we neglect. The key is to be more mindful when performing everyday tasks such as sitting at your desk or walking to work. Simply suck in your stomach as if it were a tight pair of jeans, pulling your belly button in toward your spine, hold in your hoo ha, as if you were stopping the flow of urine and squeeze the base of your bottom….and then breath. I will post more on this later, but here are some great guidelines if you are new to kegals.
If you are not used to this it will take a few days to master, but the difference is totally worth it.
If you can compliment these with more focussed exercises include doing a bridge, bum raises, hip flexor stretches and pilates hundreds. Further, if you can add a Swiss ball or Bosu when your are weight training you will fire up your core if when you are not aware of it. Consistently exercising this area is essential and the benefits are huge.
Day to day life can create havoc with our muscles.
For many of us it involves repetitive movements or lack of, i.e., sitting in front of a PC causing our muscles to over shorten and relax, (think tight calves) or constant twisting and straining, bending and lifting.
What is more our everyday locomotion, such as walking, is prone to be unbalanced, a fair few of us droop our head, slouch our shoulders and back. The repetitive nature of these movements causes our muscles to elongate and shorten in an abnormal way leading to sometimes severe back pain.
By balancing out these movements with the appropriate stretches you can have a massive reduction in back pain. For example after walking to work, while your muscles are still warm and stretchy hold a few stretches for a minimum of 30 second per muscle. It may seem inconvenient but your body will benefit from it.
Hipflexors, calves and hamstrings can easily be stretched without too big a deal and really ease the associated pain.
Much to your annoyance, your Mum’s constant nagging about your posture as a kid was pretty valuable. Don’t let your busy lifestyle weigh you down. I know it is not easy, for years I slouched and refused to sit up or stand up straight. But an engaged posture is not only great for our self esteem and confidence, but it eliminates the need for you to correct your slouchiness in the gym. Pilates and Yoga are great for helping you be more mindful of your posture, but simply adopting their fundamentals such as core engagement, head up (as if you were holding an orange on your neck) shoulders pulled back and lowered into your back pockets and an open heart will make life much more pleasant and pain free.
6. Excess Weight
What some people aren’t aware of is the sheer scale of damage your weight may be having on your joints. Generally speaking, the force we absorb into our joints as we walk is one and a half times our weight. Whilst the force always going to offer a challenge, if you overweight, your weight can be having a significant impact on your joints. So for example if you are 90 kilos and should really be 70, you are putting an extra 30 kilos of strain on your joints than you should be. By shaving off just a small amount of weight you will significantly decrease the pressure on your joints, and that can only be a good thing right?
Of course, many forms of back pain are much more serious, but if you are able to recognise any of these behaviours before an expensive trip to your therapist then it is worth a try.
Of course there are many backaches that can not be attributed to such and I urge you to see a medical professional to assess the situation.
Yours in wellness.