If you’ve been in pain for some time now, you may have been inactive and the muscles in your trunk and spine area have become weakened by this inactivity.
The best way to reduce back pain is to maintain proper body posture when lifting and carrying, and to work on conditioning the “core” musculature around your trunk area. Here are some simple guidelines for proper body postures while lifting and carrying, as well as an explanation of two simple exercises you can do anywhere at any time. Making these a daily habit will go a long way toward helping you reduce your pain or at least helping you increase your ability to get through your day and enjoy life in general, despite your pain.
Body Posture when lifting and carrying
We all need to lift and carry things as part of our daily routines: boxes, children, pets, golf clubs, etc. The problem is, we often lift incorrectly: using our backs as a crane, or twisting while we are lifting. Also, we often use poor posture while walking with an object, or poor technique in putting down an object.
The Golden Rule of Lifting
Maintain a “neutral spine”. Maintaining a “neutral spine” means keeping your shoulders, hips, and knees in alignment with one another. (i.e. no bending forward or backward, and no twisting). It is also important to keep objects as close to the body as possible during the lifting and carrying of objects. There are four basic lifts: The Squat, The Genuflect, The Straight Back Bend, and the Golfer’s Lift.
The Squat: To lift larger and heavier objects from low surfaces. Technique: Maintain an upright posture and bend the knees to lower yourself to the ground, as if sitting in a chair. Try keeping your heels on the ground as long as possible.
The Genuflect (aka ½ kneeling): To lift medium objects from the ground, especially when a squat lift doesn’t get you low enough. Technique: Maintain an upright posture and kneel down onto one knee, pull the object up to your belly, and stand.
The Straight Back Bend: To bend over objects such as a sink to brush your teeth or wash your hands, and for reaching. Technique: Maintain a neutral spine and pivot forward from the hips (top of legs) not the waist (low back). It often helps to bend the knees slightly.
The Golfer’s Lift: To pick up small and light objects. This is good for getting canned goods out of a shopping cart. Technique: You must have a stick, cane or other object to lean on in order to perform this lift. Lean one hand on your stick (maintain a neutral spine!), and pivot forward from the hips, while allowing the opposite leg to rise up behind you.
Trunk stabilization exercises
Technique: Lie flat on your back, and place your hands palm down beneath your pelvis/lower back. Lift both legs approx 6 to 12 inches off the floor and hold for a count of two. Then relax. Do in sets of 10 lifts. Try for 4 sets per day.
Less strenuous version: To build up the strength to do the “regular version,” sit at the edge of a desk or low counter/table. Angle your upper body backward (remember to keep your entire body straight!) until your toes are barely on the floor. Now lean back slightly to lift your legs off the floor. Hold for a count of ten.
More strenuous version: Hold your feet approximately 1-2 inches apart as you raise/hold them in the air, and keep them up for a longer period of time!
Military style push-ups
Technique: Lie flat on your stomach, with your hands palm-down approximately shoulder-width apart, and your elbows flexed, held against your side. Extend your arms, pushing your body up off the floor. Be sure to maintain a neutral spine, so that when you are in the “up” position, your shoulders, hips, and ankles are aligned. Hold in the “up” position for a count of two. Then relax back down to the ground. Do in sets of 10 push-ups. Try for 4 sets per day.
Less strenuous version: To build up the strength to do the “regular version,” start by doing the push-ups against a wall (keeping a neutral spine!). When you can do 4 sets of 10 push-ups against a wall, try doing them on a counter top. Then progress to push-ups on the seat of a chair or a coffee table. Then move to doing them on the floor. Keep at it – you can do it! More strenuous version: Try doing push-ups on a large exercise ball. Not only do your trunk muscles have to hold you straight, but your other muscles (the obliques, etc) have to hold you from bending left or right!
World Wide Web resources for Spine/Back exercises: http://www.spine-dr.com