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How To Reduce Or Even Prevent Low Back Pain During the Holidays

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving weekend, and the thoughts we shared on Wednesday and Thursday were helpful to you in making it memorable. After all, it’s all about wholeness – wellness for the whole person.

Since 2013, I’ve heard more doctors and researchers making this statement: sitting is the new smoking.

Remember the uproar when it came to public knowledge that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer, emphysema, and death? We had been told for decades that it was safe, relaxing, and even stylish. But it turned out that it was habit-forming and toxic. It seemed like a harmless way to comfort ourselves when we were under stress, but it was deadly.

Now, we are facing a nationwide epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, and it all links back to this inclination we have toward habits that promote comfort and pleasure. This time, the dangerous behavior is sitting. An Australian study published in October 2012 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine stated that “every hour of TV that people watch, presumably while sitting, cuts about 22 minutes from their lifespan, while it’s estimated that smokers shorten their lives by about 11 minutes per cigarette.”

But, Didn’t You Just Recently Say…

Like I’ve mentioned before, not all sitting is necessarily toxic. I did a series of “Move Right Monday” videos where we talked about proper sitting posture and how it contributes to good health.

The problem is that we spend too much time sitting and our posture is usually poor. Whether you hunch forward or overextend backwards, our poor posture is usually an effort to compensate for back pain. I get that. The catch-22 is that our poor sitting posture contributes to the very back pain we’re trying to alleviate.

Some of my readers are old enough to remember when teachers would reprimand students for slouching. Slouched posture indicated poor self-discipline, while erect posture was evidence of clear thinking, attentiveness, and good upbringing.

But holding good posture for hours at a time is exhausting, and if there is any pain or injury anywhere in the abdomen, it makes sitting erect seem like torture. So the natural response is to slump or lean, which only exacerbates the problem.

The pain we often feel when we’ve been sitting is an imbalance in tensions. Each group of muscles, in an effort to keep us standing up straight and balanced, applies balanced tension to the skeleton. When we sit for too long, some muscle groups get hyper-extended, while others are hyper-contracted. The tensions are out of alignment, and it puts imbalanced tension on the bones and cartilage, leading to inflammation. If you do this day after day, for hours every day, you’re going to experience an injury from this imbalance. For a more detailed explanation, have a look at the article I recently shared on core muscle groups.

So, What Do We Do?

We can’t stand indefinitely and we can’t work lying down (although I’ve seen some really good attempts at this), so we have to be able to sit sometimes. How can we sit without hurting ourselves.

What I recommend is that we rebalance the core muscle alignment with a chiropractic adjustment (or a series of adjustments if the damage is severe), then reduce our sitting, a little at a time.

  • For instance, if you sit all day at work, set a timer to remind you to get up and move around for a few minutes every hour. The movement will stimulate blood flow, which will help you stay focused and creative. It will also stimulate and exercise the core muscles that drive posture.
  • Ask your employer about getting a stand-up workstation and a high stool that you can lean on periodically. Go back and forth between postures.
  • Maintain good sitting posture for 10 minutes at a time, and slowly increase it in five-minute increments.
  • If you’re in the car all day, get out of your car and walk around as often as time permits.

The key is to regularly change your position. We weren’t made to sit all day, stand all day, or walk all day. Mix it up a little.

I find that my patients have more success starting a new posture plan immediately after a chiropractic adjustment, while the muscles and tendons are still fairly fluid and the pressure on the nerve endings is relaxed. If there is pain anywhere in the system, it’s going to make the process more difficult. Pain triggers self-defense mechanisms that spasm and tighten the muscles. As long as the pain signal is present, your body will experience stress, so it’s important to remove the pain signal, which a chiropractic adjustment can help do. Staying in that contracted posture for an extended period will gradually imbalance your core muscles (that’s another way stress ruins your health). But if your body is relaxed and your nervous system is at rest (meaning no pain signals), you will find that your body can be comfortable while sitting, laying down, standing, and moving.

Now, just a quick word of warning. It’s not unusual for a person who has recovered from a back injury to feel fine for a long period of time, and suddenly experience a reoccurrence of that pain. It tends to come after an extended airline flight, a long meeting, or a sudden movement after a long day at the office. The key to the problem is usually a long period of imbalanced sitting posture.

Holiday Sitting

I understand that much of our American holiday culture involves extended periods of sitting (usually accompanied by increasing our weight with food). If you start to feel fatigue or pressure in your back, get up and walk around, or at least stand up. Changing your posture at regular intervals will do about as much for you as yoga would. I don’t recommend you engage in yoga in most holiday social settings, unless it’s a Christmas party for your yoga group. Then it’s probably OK.

The next thing I urge you to do if you deal with any kind of regular back pain is to visit my YouTube channel and start doing the “Move Right Monday” exercises with me. I’ve included a link to the playlist with all of them grouped together. These exercises are designed to be low-sweat, high-gain movements you can do at the office, at home, or anywhere for five minutes at a time. Almost all of them work directly with the core muscles that control your movement, posture, flexibility, and mobility. As you do these exercises, you will experience less back pain, more flexibility, and more motion control. If you suffer from back pain, don’t waste time questioning whether or not you want to start – get in and do them!! I designed them to make your life better – pain free!

Let’s head into 2016 having already formed a positive habit of simple exercises, and I assure you, it will be the healthiest year you’ve had. And if your back is perfect the way it is, you probably work with someone who suffers from back pain. Please share this link with them so they can get on the road to feeling better right away. Don’t let them suffer another minute.

Oh…if you’re already doing the “Move Right Monday” exercises with me, share your story in the comments on my Facebook page and let our whole community know how you feel. A good testimony can encourage alot of people to make the changes they need to make to feel better.

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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