Photo: woods wheatcroft photography

A Better Way to Prevent Back Problems

English: Abdominal muscles on a woman's belly.

This is a continuation of two previous two articles on back pain.

We all know to use our legs when lifting heavy objects, but that’s really all we’re taught about how to keep our backs healthy. But when you acknowledge that back problems don’t originate in the back, you learn that there are many ways to prevent back pain. In more than 30 years of doing body work, I’ve never seen anyone with acute or chronic back issues who wasn’t tense in their abdomen, pelvis, and legs. When these structures release, often the back releases.

The first thing I tell my clients is, forget all that you learned about good posture—because it is wrong. Yes, you want to start straight, but not at the cost of creating tension. The old adage, “Shoulders back, stomach in, chest out, and feet straight” is not a natural stance even for the loosest and best-aligned individual. That stance will have the back muscles being posture muscles, a job they aren’t designed to do.

To maintain a relaxed abdomen, STOP holding your gut in. Holding your stomach in restricts your breath. It also will restrict rib movement, a setup for upper back problems. Breathe. Let your stomach relax – which is the best way to release stress. Give your organs and back some room.

Stop fighting gravity. You will never win. Have someone stamp a profile picture of you. See how, in spite of feeling aligned, you are leaning back. That leaning back compresses the lower back and makes your soft tissue system do jobs it’s not meant to do. That constant stress causes serial micro-traumas to your body creating more constricting connective tissue.

The best way to shift the backward tilt is to learn how to walk naturally. Lean into gravity, allowing what was once shortening muscles to lengthen. You can download a free book on Natural Running and Walking at: www.align.org.

Minimize the effect of long sitting by sitting on your sits bone, thereby allowing your back to be vertical. The slouching most people do compresses the back and sticks your head out. Having your furniture fit you, rather than you fix it, will over time make a huge difference. Invest in a good ergonomic chair that supports this good posture.

Another misconception is that to have a strong back, you need strong abdominal muscles. Most people will feel an initial improvement from doing sit ups because you are moving and learning a new way to compensate. Yet over time you are using another set of muscles to do a job they aren’t meant to do. Moreover, you are further compressing the space between your ribcage and pelvis. Your discs go from being jelly donuts to pancakes.

Relax. Relax, relax, relax. Let your body do what comes naturally. Stop fighting gravity, and stop fighting your own body.

Owen Marcus, MA Certified Advanced Rolfer, www.align.org – call if you have questions: 265.8440.

Photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abdominal_muscles_of_a_woman.jpg

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