Download this article as a PDF: Dos & Don’ts For A Healthy, Pain-Free Back
Our modern sedentary lives create the perfect recipe for as many as 80% of us to be afflicted by back pain at one time or another. If you’ve already been plagued with one or more episodes of severe back pain, you know that nothing is more debilitating. In many cases, simple changes in our daily habits can prevent back pain.
Dehydration: The Precursor To Most Back Pain
Most cases of back pain – or any joint and muscle pain – have the component of dehydration as the precursor to the strain or injury. Muscles, tendons and ligaments that are dehydrated lose their elasticity and ability to recover from the episodic overuse or strain. Think of a muscle without enough water like a rubber band that’s been lying out in the hot sun for weeks. It will dry out, get brittle and loose its ability to stretch, so the first load that you put on it will make it snap. So many times, I’ve heard “but I didn’t do anything to cause this – when I bent down, I couldn’t get up…” The actual injury occurred from long-term lack of water; bending down was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. So, how much water is enough? I recommend 32 ounces for every 50 pounds that you weigh and water has to be just plain H2O. All the fancy waters simply have chemicals and particles in them that impede their passage into the cell membranes where water is needed. Remember: anything with caffeine or alcohol is “negative” water, in that these substances are diuretics and force water out at twice the volume of what is in the beverage.
Common Causes Of Back Pain
- Sitting at work is more often a cause of back pain than physical labor. When you sit too much, the major mover of the back, the hip flexor muscle (or iliopsoas) shortens from being in a constant contracted position. This muscle attaches to every vertebra in the low back from the front of the spine, passes through the hip bone and inserts at the leg bone. It has a dual action. It bends you forward from the waist and it lifts your leg. If you sit too much, this muscle shortens because, like every muscle, it adapts to whatever load you put on it. When you need it to return to its full length, such as when you get up from a sitting position, you experience the pain in your back. If you find yourself in a forward bent position, even when you are standing, you are probably suffering from a hip flexor contracture. This phenomenon is involved in 90% of back pain cases. If you suspect that you already have it, the most effective treatment is trigger point therapy. A short examination will confirm it and even the first treatment will bring about the start of relief. For more information, visit my Trigger Point Therapy page. In my 18 years of practice, my favorite antidote for sitting too much is doing Teresa Tapp’s 15-minute physical therapy, rehabilitative approach to fitness using her DVD, T-Tapp, four times per week. Read more about T-Tapp, here.
- Men cause themselves back pain by sitting on their wallet that they keep in their back pocket. The constant imbalance to the hip bone eventually translates into undo stress on the back muscles trying to compensate for the tilt. Women hurt themselves with imbalanced loads from large pocketbooks on one shoulder. If you have to carry a large bag, the best option is a long shoulder strap that can go across your body or a back pack.
- Sleeping on your stomach puts a torque type strain on your spine for eight hours at a time. Since you have to breathe, your neck is twisted for the entire time. It usually first manifests as neck pain, but, eventually, all the back muscles get into the game. Since your back muscles all function as one continuous interwoven unit from the base of your skull to your hip bone, your entire spine is affected. To break the habit, get a thick long pillow and lie on your side with the pillow between your slightly flexed legs. The pillow should be firm enough to keep your legs hip-width apart, as well as big enough to serve as a physical barrier so that you are prevented by it from going face down while you are asleep.
- Avoid leg lifts and high impact exercise. Leg lifts strain the hip flexors again. Remember: it attaches to the leg bone to lift the leg. Why people think doing leg lifts will tighten their abs is beyond me. Your abs do not attach at the leg; they attach at the pubic bone. By the way, leg lifts are a big component of Pilates, so, if this is your form of exercise, make sure that you avoid the “Pilates 100,” which is a leg lift series. From my experience, leg lifts are only asking for trouble.
- The repetitive motion damage caused by high impact and improper weight lifting exercise is another big reason for back pain. This is best described in Dr. Doug McGuff’s book, Body by Science. If you want expertise in the most effective and safest form of exercise in the least amount of time, read his book. You’ll have a better understanding about fitness and how to prevent injury than just about any personal trainer whom I’ve found.
- Last, but not least, is proper nutrition. If you’ve been reading my articles, you know that I can’t say too much about the comprehensive damage processed, fake foods cause to our entire bodies. For more specifics on nutrition, check out these three articles: “What is Real Food and Why Should I Care,” “Ideal Nutrition: What to Eat, What to Avoid, Part 1” and “Ideal Nutrition, Part 2.”
I’m sure that, by my next article, I will have thought of a few more points to add to this list. It won’t be the first time that I have had an addendum to a subject, but these are a really good start to keep you pain free and longer on the dance floor.
This article was first published in The Delaware Valley Dance Spotlight. It is the sole work of its author, Dr. Veronica Collings DC.