“I’ve got a bad back”. It’s a phrase I hear weekly, if not daily. The term “bad” can be used to describe a number of conditions when it comes to the vertebral column. Disc herniation, rupture, degeneration. Kyphosis, lordosis and scoliosis. Sciatica, pinched nerves, ankylosing spondylitis and my favourite one to say- “spondylolisthesis”! Don’t worry about all the big words, it all comes down to having “a bad back”. I hear you, I really do. If you want to help yourself to help your back though, I’m going to give you a quick tip. It will not CURE your condition-whatever it may be. That’s up to your health care professionals (and YOU) but what I’m about to tell you may help your spinal column stand tall once again. What have you got to lose?
In this modern world it is surprising how many people live with back pain. Chronic or temporary, it makes anyone grumpy and affects day to day life in many ways. We only have ONE spine, so when we have pain upon lifting children, shopping bags, overhead luggage or cartons of wine it hurts. Back pain affects our daily movement and muscle function-not to mention our mood.
Why? Why when we have everything literally at our fingertips is back pain so prevalent? I’ll tell you in ONE word!
Smartphones, tablets and computers promote slumping for hours on end, ‘text neck’ and an ever weakening posterior chain. We’re more concerned with checking Insta, building worlds in Minecraft or allegedly socializing through a screen than with looking after our vertebrae, the surrounding muscles and indeed the internal organs also affected by posture.
Good posture can be defined as the ideal position or alignment of the body which minimizes stress, is most energy efficient and allows for sound body mechanics.
Good posture is important because it decreases the amount of stress placed on bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons.
Appropriate alignment of the vertebrae improves function and decreases the amount of muscle energy needed to keep the body upright.
Spinal curvature has evolved to achieve equilibrium of weight distribution through the intervertebral discs (axial skeleton) and consequentially through the limbs (appendicular skeleton).
Once this balance is misplaced (ie.you’ve been texting/swiping right or left for your whole lunch break), your spinal alignment from the neck to the sacrum can change. The musculature surrounding the spine adapts ie. the muscles helping you slouch get stronger and the muscles which counter this poor posture become weaker. Is a ‘swipe to the right’ really worth that??
Exercises to help reverse years of bad posture
One of the best and easiest ways to start practising good posture is to simply become aware of it.
If you have been practising bad posture for a very long time you might find maintaining a neutral spine throughout the day is extremely difficult, almost impossible. As tough as this is to swallow initially, don’t despair. Use the exercises below to gently ease your body into proper alignment.
If you want some fast relief from the effects of bad posture this is your exercise. Lie flat on the floor and position your legs on the top of a raised surface such as a bed, table or chair. Ensure that your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle and bring your hips as close to the raised surface as possible. Lie in this position for 5-10 minutes. For an isometric arm workout -as an added bonus, hold phone over chest, swipe right.
This position helps align the shoulders with the hips, relaxing the muscles in the lumbar region and stretching the thoracic muscles and erector spinae. The effect is pleasant and can bring lasting benefits.
If you want something more intense try this. Instead of using the raised platform from the previous exercise, lie on the floor in front of a wall. Drag yourself forward until your butt is as close to the wall as possible. Bring your legs up against the wall until it looks as though you are sitting on it. Lie like this for 5-10 minutes and let all the tension from your lumbar region, core and hamstrings drain away.
As I mentioned, these ideas won’t CURE underlying conditions and pathology but until you start to a) be AWARE of your posture and b) be PROACTIVE in changing bad habits , your ‘bad back’ will prevail, your pain will continue and you could possible end up with spondylolisthesis( I just like saying that) in later years.
So get to it!
Stand tall. Proud chest. Chin up. (and go and talk to someone instead of swiping!)