Since the basis of my practice is chiropractic care, back pain is kind of my bread and butter.
It makes sense: people with inflammatory bowel disorder typically don’t think of chiropractors first when looking for treatment. Eventually, I’ll fix that mindset, but for now, I’ll gladly start with back pain and work my way through the nervous system to the other problems people experience.
So, if you suffer from low back pain (like 80 percent of your friends and neighbors do), let me share you a couple of simple tips you can apply RIGHT NOW to feel relief.
Stand At Least As Much As You Sit
Most American adults spend over half of their day on their kiesters, between their desks at work, their cars, their dinner tables, restaurants, theaters, and of course, parked on the sofa in front of the TV. I don’t remember where I heard this expression first, but it’s true: “sitting is the new smoking.” Remember when you found out that smoking causes emphysema, cancer, heart disease, and a dozen other gruesome forms of death? Sitting is like that, but more subtle. The sedentary American lifestyle is promoting the growth of heart disease, colon diseases, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Your body needs to move. And don’t get me started on the importance of going outside. That’s for another time.
Unless you were schooled in proper sitting posture, you are probably doing it wrong. I know, that sounds like a ridiculous, even arrogant thing for a chiropractor to say, but you are the one with the back pain, so hear me out. Most furniture is designed to be pretty more than it is designed to support your spine properly, and most of us focus on comfort when we sit instead of good posture. Even “ergonomic” furniture is only helpful if you use it correctly. When you slouch, cross your legs, or lean heavily to one side, you put imbalanced pressure on your spine, nervous system, and organs. If your feet, legs, arms, or hands “go to sleep,” you’re doing it wrong, and for most of us, that’s just par for the course. It’s not supposed to be that way.
I strongly encourage my patients who work at a desk all day to look into getting a stand-up desk, or even one of those fancy, adjustable ones that go up and down. If your workplace won’t allow it, then set a timer and get up at least once every hour and walk around for at least five minutes. Make phone calls or attend meetings standing up. Take a walk during your lunch break. Find a way to get off your backside as often as you can, for as long as you can.
Stretch Your Hamstrings…And All The Other Muscles
Unless you’re a professional athlete (or trainer who studies physiology charts to plan weight lifting schedules), you probably don’t think much about the structure of your back muscles. It’s not all one mass of muscles; but rather, an interwoven cross-hatch of muscle groups that hold each other in balance, much like the cables of a suspension bridge. If one group gets out of balance (through overuse, underuse, or injury), all the others around it have to overcompensate. You end up with a limp or hunched over like so many seniors I see shuffling along the aisles at Walmart. It’s a horribly painful way to live, and I make most of my living undoing years of damage caused by muscular imbalances.
Most low back pain starts with over-tensed hamstrings, which are the muscles on the backs of your thighs. As they pull down on your glutes (the muscles of your backside and hips), they put extra tension on your lower back, rib cage, and abs. I made a few short videos with simple exercises you can do to warm up and loosen those muscles during the day. Some people like to limber up first thing in the morning – I prefer to stretch periodically throughout the day, to stay loose.
Tighten Up the Spare Tire
A “spare tire” around your midsection can also cause serious back pain because of the imbalanced pressure that weight is placing on your spine. The same is often true for women with large breasts. The issue is not the weight as much as the imbalance of weight on your frame. This series of exercises is designed to help you strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles (often called “core muscles”) evenly and in harmony with each other. These muscles don’t get much action during a normal workday, so they have to be exercised intentionally.
Drink Plenty of Water
Up to 79% of your muscle tissue is water. Naturally, if you are dehydrated (and most of us are severely dehydrated), your muscles will tend to be sore, tight, and fragile. You injure more easily when you are dehydrated. In fact, if you would increase your daily water intake to one-half your body weight in ounces, you will experience a decrease in most of your pain, stiffness, skin problems, headaches, fatigue, forgetfulness, kidney stones, colds, and dozens of other symptoms.
Get Adequate Restorative Sleep
Sleep is a time when your body and mind reset themselves. Your muscles need time to regroup. Just a word of caution: not all mattresses are created equal. Some are downright destructive to your musculoskeletal system. Memory foam can create problems for you, especially if it remembers poor sleeping posture. Part of the reason our bodies naturally lay down when we sleep is that our muscles and bones need to release the tensions of the day and go back to their proper shape.
Exercise is one of those words that causes most people to gloss over, largely because of the misconceptions they harbor. You might associate the word “exercise” with expensive gym memberships or long hours of pumping iron and sweating. It’s not true. You can improve your mobility, stability, flexibility, and motor control in just a few minutes a few times a day with the “Move Right Monday” video series I put together. They are designed to be simple movements you can do at home, at work, or anywhere else, without having to change clothes. Many of them have the added benefit of releasing feel-good neurotransmitters (“endorphins”) into your blood stream, making you feel good all over. You might be surprised at how much better you feel after a few weeks of intentionally moving your core muscles every day.
Apply Cold and Heat Therapy
If you’ve ever watched professional athletes, you’ve probably seen them apply heat or ice to sore muscles. There’s some complex science behind this, but to put it simply, cold therapy reduces inflammation and slows nerve impulses, reducing spasming, while heat therapy stimulates blood flow, carrying nutrients and neurotransmitters to the affected area. Over time, you’ll find what works best for you in different situations.
See A Chiropractor
It may sound self-serving, but just like you take your car in for routine maintenance, you need to bring your spine in for an adjustment periodically. Muscles have memories, and they default back to wherever they formed a habit, even if it causes you intense pain. To get the best performance from your muscles, nerves, and organs, you need to have a professional get your whole system in proper alignment, and then keep it there until new muscle memory can form around your new posture. You will be so pleased with how you feel as your alignment and balance improve. If you live in the Naples area, I would be honored to visit with you, but even if you go somewhere else, as long as you are seeing someone regularly, I’ll be happy.
Keep It Simple
I realize this is not your standard back-pain advice, but all of these factors contribute to a healthy back. Keep those back muscles balanced, limber, and well-hydrated, and your days of chronic back pain well melt away. If this article was helpful to you, it will probably be helpful to someone you know. Do me a favor and take a few seconds to share this on your social media. You never know who you know that might be looking for a simple, non-surgical answer for their back pain. You could save them years of pain, stiffness, and even disability.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas