Can you touch your toes? Do the splits? Or are you like most of us? The alarm goes off in the morning and you roll over feeling stiff or achey. As we get older, we tend to get less active, and we’re at risk of losing our mobility.
That’s not so good—but there are easy, everyday fixes.
Most of you probably know someone (if not yourself) who has thrown out their back at least once. That pain is so debilitating, so frustrating. Who has time for that?
Low back pain is one of the most common reasons that adults visit the doctor. In fact, it’s second only to cold and flu symptoms. Although many different treatment regimens have been proposed, we still lack a gold-standard treatment. Should you stretch? Take medications? Stay in bed?
Alas, most of us reach for the pill bottle when in fact, a few stretches are really what’s in order.
Stretching can do wonders for your back—if you do it right. For those of you with chronic low back pain, a recent spate of studies1 recommend supervised exercise and stretching rather than a solo workout. Makes sense, right? How much better is it to work out with others? You’re more likely to actually do the exercises and stretches if you’re committed to a class; you’re more likely to do them correctly if an instructor is present to help you; and you’re more likely to push yourself harder in a group.
Stretching and exercising not only feel good (I'm even sitting taller while typing this), but they are both so helpful for keeping our backs strong. Our backs are made up of bones, nerves, muscles and other tissues all working elegantly together so that we can stand, sit and generally move any which way we want when we want. Stretching every part of your body (don’t forget your hips and abdomen) helps all those muscles work in sync.
There are other easy ways to save your back on a daily basis, too.
First of all, take a load off your shoulders. Most of us carry a heavy bag or satchel—so useful when you want an extra water bottle or a book to read, but not so useful for your back! If you’re like me (and most of the women I know) you probably carry this bag or satchel on the same shoulder every day. Pretty soon, your shoulders and back become the leaning Tower of Pisa. Instead, try alternating shoulders so you don’t put undue stress on one side.
Second, if you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, think about how you sit. To improve your posture and prevent low back pain, try swapping out a chair for a large medicine ball. If you have not exercised a lot up to this point, start out sitting on the ball just for a brief time and slowly build up. Sitting on a medicine ball will help to strengthen your core, including your abdomen and back muscles.
No need to be one of the legions of chronic back pain sufferers, especially when the fixes are so quick and easy to do.
1JW Gen Med Dec 15 2011, p192; Ann Arch Intern Med 2011; 155: 569; Arch Intern Med 2011, Dec 12/26; 171:2019
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