How to keep your lower back in shape for longer

Mar 12, 2019
Lower back pain affects millions of Australians, but there are ways to manage it. Source: Getty

There’s one thing anyone can do no matter what their age to keep their lower back in shape for longer.

But first, let’s focus on some common sources of low back pain problems.

Consistently poor posture when standing, walking and sitting creates the perfect conditions for back pain because the body is out of alignment. Something has to give, and usually it’s the lower back.

Successfully preventing back pain means finding solutions and staying consistent. For example, with seated posture, which is now one of the greatest back pain causes, you need to consider:

• Sitting in a straight-backed chair, or at least a chair with support to the lower back
• Keeping your knees at a slightly higher platform than your hips
• When you need to move while sitting, turn by moving your whole body instead of twisting your waist
• When working at a computer, place the screen at eye level
• For those who drive long distances, consider placing a small pillow at your lower back

When standing keep your head up and posture upright so your ears, shoulders and hips are in line. For walking posture, elongate your spine and think tall when you walk, looking at the horizon.

Bedtime is another place where we need to consider our posture and be consistent. It’s best your mattress is no more than eight years’ old (unless it has a longer warranty period). Many people manage their back pain in bed by using pillows – you obviously need a good pillow to support your neck, but some people have good results by also keeping a pillow under their knees. Some may benefit from a small pillow under the lower back, particularly if you sleep on your back.

Each of these on its own is a small thing, yet together and used consistently should influence your back pain for the better.
But there is one other thing we commonly see – inactivity, which is a huge contributor to back pain.

The spine is meant to move in three planes of movement. Yet as we age we tend to restrict movement to just one or two planes – for example, people commonly limit spinal movement to forward/back movements (such as bending forward to tie your shoes), which is just one plane of movement (the sagittal plane).

This inactivity is bad for the spine and when it is asked to do more than the nerves, muscles, joints, soft tissue and ligaments can cope with, pain results.

The other planes of movement we must consider for good back health include moving side-to-side (the coronal plane) – this can be achieved with simple side bends: raise your left arm above your head, with feet firmly planted on the ground, and gently reach your left arm over your head to your right hand side – your right arm can stay at your side – then do the opposite, reaching your right arm across to your left side. Each time try to reach a little further.

We must also consider spinal rotations (moving along the horizontal plane), which can be achieved by planting feet firmly on the ground, extend your arms straight out, and swinging your arms side-to-side, which will rotate your shoulders in a gentle “twist” motion – you can extend the movement by moving your head with each rotation, so when you swing your arms to the right you also turn your head to the right, and vice versa.

These simple movements are easy yet effective – just 20 reps of each twice a day will make the back healthier. Further instructions for these movements are available in the Kinrgize fitness app (Kinrgize is a free download and the exercises are found under Today’s Workout).

Remaining active while you are experiencing back pain may seem counter-intuitive, and may be difficult. But extensive research has confirmed prolonged periods of bed rest worsens low back pain.

If you are in pain the best mantra you can enact is ‘little and often’; move a little, as often as you can. Eventually you can gradually increase your range of movement.

It sounds simple, maybe too simple. But after more than 50,000 physiotherapy treatments I can tell you it is powerful.

We should consider inactivity as bad as not brushing your teeth for five days straight. Today’s society would not be able to bear neglecting teeth brushing for this long, but the stats show 80 per cent of the population do not meet their daily 30 minute activity requirements.

Note: only move within tolerable pain levels – if the movements cause pain you may need treatment.

Do you have lower back pain? Have you tried any of these exercises?

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