At some point during adulthood, a staggering 80% of Americans will miss work due to back pain. The majority, however, does not result from a spinal injury, but rather muscular pain. While a day, or two, off work may sound great, spending that time side-lined in pain probably isn't what you had in mind.
Try these 5 ways to alleviate your back pain, and save those sick days for other emergencies.
1. Get Moving. Between our jobs, long commutes, and Netflix marathons, we can easily spend almost 9 hours of our day sitting. Though it may seem relaxing for our feet, sitting can wreak havoc on our back, hips, and internal organs.
Researchers now believe that a sedentary lifestyle (including excessive sitting) can be as detrimental for our bodies as smoking. Taking short breaks to move can not only ease your back pain, it can also help reduce your risk cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
2. Perfect Posture. During all of those hours we spend sitting, rarely are we utilizing correct posture. Instead, we hunch over our phones, tablets, and keyboards.
When the vertebrae are not stacked atop one another, our joints, organs, and muscles experience increased pressure and tension. Circulation decreases, therefore, oxygen isn't transported freely throughout our body. So, in addition to back pain, you may also notice decreased energy and digestive discomfort.
3. Core Strength. Building abdominal muscle strength is a great way to support the lower back. Fortunately, this doesn't mean endless crunches.
Practicing perfect posture helps activate deep abdominal muscles that support the spine. Plank holds, Pilates, and yoga all help strengthen core muscles and realign the vertebral column.
4. Stretch it Out. Strong muscles are good, strong and flexible muscles are even better.
Excessive sitting generally causes muscles in the hips, hamstrings, and lower back to maintain contraction or spasm. Taking a few minutes during the day to stretch these muscles can reduce your back pain.
Try starting with these three stretches (*if any cause pain, stop!):
Knee to Chest: Lie flat on your back with both legs relaxed. Gently hold below one knee and slowly stretch the bent leg toward your chest (if this is difficult, bend the opposite leg so your foot is flat on the floor). Hold for 3-5 seconds then repeat on the opposite side. This stretch helps lengthen the hip flexor muscles of the straight leg, and the bent leg relieves tension in the lower back and sacrum.
Double Knee to Chest: Lie flat on your back, then bend both knees so your feet are flat on the floor. Gently hold below your knees and slowly hug both legs toward your chest. Hold for 3-5 seconds, return the starting position, then repeat. This stretch helps to relieve pressure in the lower back, return the pelvis into structural alignment, and increase flexibility in the muscles supporting the spinal column.
Legs up the wall: With your bottom close to the wall, lie flat on your back and raise your legs toward the ceiling resting them against the wall (if this is too strenuous for your hamstrings, start near a couch or chair and bend your legs onto the seat/cushion). Breathe deeply and hold for 1-5 minutes. This stretch allows the hamstrings and lower back to relax, and it also improves circulation.
5. Get a Massage. Repetitive movements, excessive sitting/standing, and poor posture can create muscular imbalances and place extreme pressure on the lower back. A trained massage therapist will not only address the muscles of the lower back, but reduce tension in compensating muscles as well.
Alleviating tension in the gluteal muscles can help reduce direct/indirect pressure on the sciatic nerve. Gentle assisted stretching can help restore structural balance, increase flexibility, and improve range of motion. Massage therapy improves circulation and can effectively ease chronic tension.
Instead of letting back pain control you, take control and alleviate your pain. Gaining awareness of your posture, increasing strength & flexibility, decreasing the stress of sitting, and massage therapy will help put recurring back pain behind you.