Shelly Greenfield: If you have low back pain, stand up

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Most of us have experienced some sort of back pain at one point or another. Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is one of the most common reasons for missed work. Most cases of back pain are mechanical, and not caused by serious conditions.

In these cases, temporary relief of symptoms is often given by over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, but is not a permanent solution to the problem. Understanding the cause of the problem can help us find a solution.

Modern conveniences have allowed us to become more sedentary. This is a major contributor of the expanding waistline, as well as other mechanical issues that go along with prolonged sitting.

As weight goes up, so does stress on the body, and can be enough to cause irritation and inflammation causing pain and discomfort in the lower back.

Surprisingly though, this is not the main cause. There are plenty of slim people with low back pain, and plenty of overweight people without low back pain.


So, what is the culprit that is affecting so many of us? Sitting. Lots of it. We are continually on the go to our next destination…to sit. Spending too much time sitting and not moving causes detrimental effects which can lead to back pain. Prolonged sitting of 8 to12 hours per day can cause weak glutes and tight hip flexors, affecting posture.

When hip flexors remain shortened and hyperactive during sitting, overtime, this can become a chronic condition. Meanwhile, muscles in the glutes (maximus, medias, and minimus) remain stretched and inactive, eventually causing them to become weak and inhibited.

Tight hip flexors draw the pelvis forward, while weak glutes are unable to combat the forward pull, thus causing the low back to arch into a swayback position. This condition can cause compression of the discs and lower spine, which can lead to pain or tingling that travels down the leg.

Altered biomechanics get carried over to normal everyday movements, which can further enhance any imbalances. For example, running strengthens the hip flexors and quads, but can weaken the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back even more, setting you up for further muscle imbalance.

Here are some things you can do to minimize low back pain and imbalances:

• Minimize your time sitting and move more. If you spend most of your day working at a desk, take a break every hour and walk around, or stretch. Just 5 minutes of movement will help.

• If you don't regularly exercise, you should start. Being healthy and fit, moving your body every day, is the key to a healthy back.

• If you already exercise regularly, then add in corrective exercises and flexibility training to minimize imbalances, such as these:


Strengthen with the supine bridge: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat. Focus on drawing your belly button to your spine to activate the transverse abdominal muscle. The lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from the base of your neck to your hips and knees. Concentrate on squeezing your glutes to extend your hips to neutral. Hold for 10 seconds and return to starting position. Repeat 6-10 times.

Increase flexibility with lunge stretch: Kneel on your right knee and place your left foot on the floor in front of your body so your left knee bends at a 90 degree angle. Pull your abs in and tilt pelvis backward. Put your weight forward into the lunge until you feel the stretch in your right hip flexors. Be sure to keep your left knee in line with your left ankle. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Overly tight muscles may require both soft-tissue work (such as massage), and flexibility work (such as yoga and stretching) to restore your muscles' ideal length and quality. If you have muscle imbalances, appropriate strength training exercises will help correct them.

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