Back pain and injury is one of the leading reasons people take painkiller and costs our economy $ Billions every year from time off work. In an age where we can land probes on Jupiter, decipher the human genetic code and restore sight with the use of stem cells how is it that we cannot prevent something as simple as back pain.
Describing a symptom like back pain as “simple” may be misleading and although the causes of spinal dysfunction can be varied the basic mechanism, more often than not, is a reasonably simple one. One that if addressed early can be prevented and if understood can lead to long term spinal health.
As I have alluded to in previous articles the key to a healthy spine is movement. But more importantly consistency of movement. It’s the daily lack of movement that our back is subjected to that is dangerous and leads to pain and dysfunction.
Our brain, muscles and joints adapt to the things we do every day. Muscles that are only used through a small range of motion, over time, will become short and tight. Muscles that aren’t used at all will become inactive, weak and ineffective. This will affect the movement and stability of the joints the muscles are attached to.
So what movements are you doing regularly and what patterns are you laying down for your body to remember?
The main culprit is prolonged sitting. The list of detrimental effects caused by sitting is long and not limited to the muscles and joints. Sitting causes the spine to be unsafely loaded leading to tightening of spine and hip muscles. These muscles which should be working to protect the spine from overload become ineffective. All these actions are not conducive with a spine that can deal with the demands of daily activity.
The good news is the solution to the problem is completely simple but does require a change of mindset. A change to a routine of consistent and regular movement. Walking, exercise, hydration and stretching. Here’s some top tips to make this transition easy for you.
- Monitor your steps and activity. Fitbit’s are great for this. They monitor how many steps you are doing per day and when you’re most active / inactive. iPhones now come with an inbuilt pedometer which you can access through the ‘Health’ app.
- Involve walking in your commute to work. If getting public transport then hop off a stop early and walk the last 10 minutes to work. Do the same for the return trip home. If driving the car park it an extra few blocks away.
- Get up every 20 mins at work. Sitting for longer than 20 mins is the critical period for the spine. You are more likely to encounter long term injury if you frequently sit for longer than this period. So get up often. Put the printer on the other side of the office so you have to get up and walk.
- 15 mins of mobility / stretching a week. Yoga classes are great for keeping the joints supple, flexible and healthy. If you’re not a yoga sort of person then gentle stretching at home or as part of your normal exercise routine is easy and effective.
The list could go on for pages but the key is consistency. The small habits you do every day shape your future health. Start small. Implement one of these every day for a fortnight. Then add another to the list and so on. Don’t treat this like a detox or fad diet where you focus on it for a month then slip back into back habits. Make changes and try and keep them.
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