How To Best Look After Your Back A Physio’s PerspectiveHealth & Fitness
The following discusses simple ways that can easily fit into your everyday routine to help protect against rising back pain. It is important that you take the following information at face value, as it is sourced from my experience as a musculoskeletal choosing a physio. In no way should it be used to undermine the advice given to you by your doctor or other health professional. Good posture is crucial to maintain correct alignment of the joints and surrounding musculature. This ensures that the forces transmitted through the body are distributed in a way that is most effective for the body and requires the least amount of effort.
It is poor posture that results in shortened (hypertonic) and elongated (phasic) muscles. Their relative attachments to the joints can exert a traction force on the joint and effectively, pull it out of alignment. This is when pain occurs, due to the stresses of movement being transmitted through the wrong points on the body. The best example for back pain is the role of the glutes (buttock) muscles. As a group, the glutes allow for stabilisation of the lower spine, in addition to controlling movement of the pelvis and therefore, the transmission of forces from the upper body and core, to the lower limbs. In many people, the glutes are tight and in most cases, underdeveloped in terms of strength.
The body therefore, seeks out a compensation by utilising the spinal extensors- the two thick columns of muscle, running up either side of the spine. Over time, these muscles become overworked and fatigued, which starts to pull on the lower (lumbar) spine, thus producing low back pain. Furthermore, these forces can become transmitted further up the spine, since the body seeks out further compensation by passing the workload of the body, up the path of least resistance.
Of course, it is all well and good to talk about good posture and the benefits of it- but what constitutes a good posture? If you look around you, you can see that every person has a different anatomy, body shape and therefore, posture. Some are congenital (you are born with it) and others are the result of environmental stresses (i.e. being hunched over a desk for 8 hours a day). However, everyone can make a difference to their own posture, whilst working with what nature provided.
The most simplistic way to do this is to maintain an open, upright stance. By using the image of a string, exiting from the top/ crown of the skull and pulling upwards, you can instantly engage your core and activate those underused tummy muscles. You should be able to feel in this position, that the tummy muscles are held in tight- it is important that you are simply not sucking in the stomach. You should be able to adopt and maintain normal breathing in this position. Try walking tall, with your shoulders back- this places the mid spine (thoracic region) into extension, which helps to combat the effects of that slumped, round-shouldered posture we tend to adopt habitually, all day long. By doing this, you are helping to strengthen the core muscles and facilitate deep breathing- also, its surprising how much taller and confident you will appear to passersby!
There are a whole host of exercises on the market, claiming to strengthen the core and abdominal muscles. However, these are often tricky to master and take a lot of time investment. The best and most time effective way to strengthen the muscles and at a later stage, get them to engage voluntarily (without having to think about it) is to use them in our every day activities. When experiencing back pain, it is in our nature to try avoid movement at all costs and walk around like a stiff board. The important thing to know about backs however, is that a prolonged avoidance of movement, in most cases, can be detrimental and compound the original problem.