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Oh My Aching Back!

The only “good” thing about low back pain is that it gets our attention: Something isn’t quite right. And the pain can be a great motivator to inspire positive change with long-term benefits.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans suffer from low back pain at some point in their lives. As a health and wellness professional, it is my job to keep up with the latest research on pain management for low backpain. There are no quick fixes and there is no one-type plan that suits everyone, but many people are open to trying a mindful-movement approach and are willing to change the way they view traditional exercise.

First, always have a medical professional evaluate the cause of chronic pain because there could be an underlying issue that is beyond the scope of our practice. Pain management through medication and physical therapy is typically the norm for initial treatment. But pain medications are a temporary solution and mask the underlying cause of the pain.

My clients’ No. 1 priority is to discover alternative methods for pain management and the ability to regain a freedom of movement. To start, I firmly believe that evaluating a person’s posture will give a true picture of the health and structure of the joints. Muscular imbalances such as tightness and weakness are usually the culprit of postural deviations, which can put extra stress on the joints and the discs.

The most common disturbance in posture is the tucked-in glutes. The pelvis is pulled forward and the glute muscles (buttocks) are in a constant state of contraction. Visually, you can see that the low back has a flattened appearance, which is not healthy. The low back (lumbar spine) needs to have a normal curve to maintain adequate space between the vertebrae. When that space is compressed, pain and discomfort is usually felt in the lower back.

Because of the loss of that natural curve and the muscular forces pulling the glutes underneath, a trained eye can see that the body also tends to lean back in a somewhat passive position. This also puts strain on the low back. People with this kind of posture tend to walk stiffly and with limited movement in their hips.

By merely pointing out the deviation, the individual can start to make some conscious and simple changes to align posture and eliminate pain.

Try this exercise:

Sit in a straight back chair. Then curl up the spine up by tightening up the glutes and bringing it forward. You can feel the pressure in the low back and abdomen. You will feel the pressure release as soon as you bring the seat back behind you and sit up tall.

Try the same thing while laying flat on a mat with knees bent and arms by your side. Push the low back into the mat by curling your tail upward. You will feel how you are overworking the seat, which has now caused the hip flexors to shorten and the abdominals to “pooch” forward.

Now release it by feeling the sacrum lying heavy on the mat and keeping the hip flexors and glute muscles relaxed. You should feel as if there is no muscular effort but a sense of length to the low back, without the pelvis tilting forward or backward. Not only does it give a more flattened appearance to the abdominals but it is also a pelvic position that allows one to activate the deepest layer of muscles in the abdominals that will in turn aid in stabilizing the whole lumbar pelvic region.

Once that posture is correct, a proper strengthening program can be introduced. Properly stretching tight muscles is also key. It will allow for adequate flexibility at each joint.

Freedom of movement is a beautiful thing and allows us to enjoy health and wellness. As our population ages, exercise is no longer a luxury but a necessity to maintain optimal well-being. Continue to move well!

Monica Hoekstra

Society Magazine – May 2013

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