Editor’s Note: Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”
For many people, back pain can make it difficult to function in everyday life. It affects how you move, feel and think, leaving you with no choice but to take some kind of action to alleviate the pain.
But what if, instead of being reactive, you took small daily steps to proactively avoid back pain altogether?
Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the everyday actions that contribute to back pain — or steps that can be taken to avoid it. If you suffer from back pain, read on for six everyday fixes.
Our bodies need adequate movement throughout the day to keep joints mobile and blood circulating through our muscles to avoid the stiffness that contributes to aches and pains. This is especially true for spinal vertebrae and back muscles.
It sounds clichéd, but if the weather is good, don’t hunt for the parking spot nearest a store; don’t take the elevator when you have the option of one or two flights of stairs. When you need to sit for prolonged periods, set a timer to get up every hour and be active for just a few minutes.
More minutes of movement add up to big health benefits over time. In addition to promoting back health, actively moving for just 11 minutes a day increases your life span, according to research. To add more movement into your day, consider instituting a daily walk. You can also try this 10-minute bodyweight workout or this five-minute yoga routine.
When we overuse our dominant side, we create muscle patterns of weakness and tension that increase pain and the likelihood of injury — especially in our backs. Consider the actions you take repeatedly throughout the day that shift your weight to one side: opening doors, carrying a bag, holding a leash to walk your dog, etc.
In my career as a mobility coach in professional sports, I’ve noticed that many of the athletes least prone to injury were ambidextrous in some manner — NHL or MLB players who play recreational golf left-handed but play their respective sports right-hand dominant, for example.
Since most people aren’t naturally ambidextrous, I create movement programs for athletes that address and counter dominant-side repetitive patterns to help restore alignment and decrease susceptibility to associated pain and injury.
You can apply the same approach in your daily life by switching sides when you carry things, such as a computer bag or purse; using your opposite hand every so often for basic activities, such as opening doors; and not always sitting on the same side of the couch.
Just as you switch sides to balance out your body, you should also be aware of and correct imbalances in movements meant to be symmetrical. These include walking, running, cycling, swimming and the like. Our bodies are designed to perform these activities in a balanced, alternating and reciprocal pattern.
When we deviate from that symmetry by using one side more or keeping our weight shifted, we can overuse back muscles on one side of our bodies and create spinal stress that leads to back pain and increased potential for injury.
To learn more about how to recognize and correct imbalances in your walking pattern, watch this video.
It might seem like the only thing you need to do to avoid slumping is to catch yourself doing it and stop — but how you correct that slump matters.
Don’t just squeeze your shoulders back to avoid slouching; posture and breathing are intimately connected, so you should check in with your breathing as you sit upright, taking some long, deep breaths with lower rib movement to help drop your rib cage into a better position to support your posture and avoid unnecessary back pain.
Regularly practicing the posture-fixing exercises in this video will help.
Psychological stress is a noted risk factor for back pain, according to research. Because most mental stress is caused by focusing on the past or future, actively being mindful of the present moment reduces stress.
A few minutes a day of mindfulness can go a long way toward minimizing the impact of stress. Additionally, mindfulness practices such as meditation, tai chi and qigong have all shown efficacy in reducing back pain.
Breathing is our most profound connection to the present moment as it is always happening in the here and now. Taking “breathing breaks” throughout your day is an easy way to add a mindfulness practice to your routine. Try the exercise in this video to get started.
Every day, you do things to take care of yourself, such as showering and brushing your teeth. If you are someone who regularly suffers from back pain, you need to approach the health of your back as a responsibility as well, creating a game plan of daily activities to practice for back health.
This should include some of the tips listed above but, because back pain can have many causes, you should learn more about the cause of your pain to determine the best course of action for you. For instance, if your pain is sciatic, you may better manage it using some of the exercises in the video here.
If your back hurts at the end of the day, don’t just decide it was a “bad” day. Ask yourself if you practiced the activities you know help you avoid the stress and tension causing you discomfort. Taking a proactive, daily-life approach to cultivating a healthy body is the key to keeping back pain at bay.
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