5 Strategies to Reduce Back Pain
Rachel Oden, O2X Injury Prevention Specialist
Back pain affects over 50% of adults globally, with some studies suggesting that it is closer to 80%. Back pain can affect the mid or low back and present as a sharp or dull pain, muscle tightness, or even stiffness. If you have experienced back pain, you know that it can limit your ability to exercise, affect your ability to perform your job, and even limit your ability to take care of things around the house. In short, back pain negatively impacts your ability to perform.
Here are 5 simple strategies to help reduce back pain:
Improve Your Body Mechanics for Prolonged Standing
Prolonged standing can cause muscle fatigue and result in poor posture. Performing a gentle chin tuck or shoulder blade squeeze to check in with your body regularly can help improve posture by providing improved blood flow and returning to optimal alignment.
Chin Tuck Instruction: Become taller through the top of your head and gently pull your chin back while allowing your shoulders to relax. Repeat this exercise at least once an hour or more frequently as needed.
Shoulder Squeeze Instruction: Become taller through the top of your head, gently squeeze your shoulder blades together, and pull your elbows back slightly. Contract and hold for 5 seconds and repeat 1-2 times per hour or more frequently as needed.
Improve Your Hip Mobility
Tight hips can have a negative effect on your posture and your performance. Improving hip mobility allows less strain on your low back and improves your ability to move both weighted and unweighted. Spending a few minutes a day to open up your hips will pay it forward in a big way.
Hip Mobility Instruction: One simple way to improve mobility in your hips is to lay flat on your back with your knees bent, your feet slightly wider than your hips, and your hands out at a 45degree angle to the side. Gently tuck your chin and “tuck your tail” by gently rolling your hips back, and pressing the small of your back to the floor. Then, push one hand into the floor towards the index finger and thumb to initiate the movement of rolling away from that hand. Allow the knee to relax. Gently rock back and forth for 1-2 minutes, stopping to recheck your spinal alignment a few times.
Stretch Your Quadriceps
Tight quadriceps pull on the front of the pelvis, leading to an anterior pelvic tilt. This means that you are increasing the hollow of your low back. This posture can lead to increased pressure on the intervertebral discs and add wear and tear to the joints in your back. Stretching your quadriceps can allow your pelvis to return to a neutral position. Remember that stretching is best received by the body when the tissues are warm, so walk or bike for 5-10 minutes before stretching.
Quad Stretch Instruction: Standing near something to lean on, use one hand to grasp the same-side ankle. Gently pull the ankle towards your buttocks and ensure the knee points towards the opposite ankle. Hold for 20-30 seconds relaxing the quads, and remember to breathe. Repeat on the opposite side. This stretch can be done standing, lying face down, or lying on your side.
Stretch Your Hamstrings
Having tight hamstrings is similar to having tight quads – they exert a pull on the pelvis. If your hamstrings are too tight, they will pull your pelvis into a posterior pelvic tilt, flattening your back and opening the door for an injury to your back. Stretching your hamstrings with a neutral pelvis can improve that strain on your low back.
Standing Hamstring Stretch Instruction: In standing, keep your spine neutral and hinge at the waist with one leg forward. Only bend as far as you can without changing the posture of your torso (do not bend your neck or back).
Supine Hamstring Stretch Instruction: Lay on the floor, bend one knee to 90degrees and put your hands behind that knee. Then, gently straighten that leg as far as you can while keeping the knee in the starting position (do not bend at the pelvis and bring the knee any closer to the torso). Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds allowing the hamstring to relax. Repeat for the opposite side.
Improve Your Sleeping Posture
We all know that we need sleep, but it may feel counterproductive when you wake up with back pain after sleeping. Sleeping on your stomach increases pressure on your low back and allows muscles to tighten while you sleep. It is recommended that you sleep on your back or side with a pillow for your knees.
Back Sleeping: Lying on your back, place a pillow under your knees to keep the pelvis in a neutral position.
Side Lying: If preferred, lying on your side, place a pillow between the knees to prevent torque on the low back and keep the pelvis level.
Predictable is preventable, and we know that back pain affects most adults. You can take action now and use simple but effective techniques to improve your posture, optimize your muscle function, and prevent lower back pain from negatively impacting your life. Consult a professional if you experience new onset back pain or back pain that does not improve.