How To Improve Your Posture & Fight Back Pain
The American Chiropractic Association estimates 31 million people suffer from chronic back pain, and it’s also the leading cause of disability in America. The pandemic has everyone sitting a little more than normal, too, so if your back is hurting for the first time—you’re not alone
There are things you can do to treat your existing back pain or prevent it altogether, like improving your posture. The first step is to understand where back pain comes from and why you might have it.
What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain is any discomfort from a degenerative or traumatic change in the underlying mechanisms of the back, such as discs or joints. Our back consists of three distinct regions:
- Cervical (neck)
- Thoracic (middle)
- Lumbar (lower)
Any of these areas can develop pain that feels like a dull ache, shoots across your back, or is a burning sensation. Sometimes, people develop nonspecific back pain—in other words, there’s no distinct cause for the pain. But generally, back pain falls into one of four categories:
- Muscle or ligament strain
- Bulging or ruptured disks
Risk Factors for Back Pain
Although doctors can’t always pinpoint what is causing back pain, they do know there are risks factors for developing it, such as:
- Age: As you grow older, the mechanisms that make up your spine start to show signs of wear.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Lack of exercise means you do not use those back and abdominal muscles enough to keep them strong.
- Being Overweight: The extra pounds add to the strain on the back.
- Smoking: It’s possible the extra coughing that comes with smoking or vaping might be causing inflammation.
One of the biggest factors that impacts back pain is our posture. How we hold and carry ourselves makes a big difference in whether or not we experience back pain. Additionally, strain from poor posture can make muscles tense, causing pain but also increasing risk of injury.
The Basics of Posture
Posture refers to how you hold your body when you walk, stand, sit, or do things like lifting and bending. The goal of good posture is to keep the spine’s bones correctly aligned with the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar sections of your back and your weight evenly distributed.
Checking Your Posture
The first step is to figure out what good posture feels and looks like on you. Start by standing in front of a full-length mirror. As you check your posture:
- Hold your head so your ears are level
- Make sure your shoulders are level
- Your kneecaps should point forward
- Put your hands on your hips. Are your hips even?
- Turn your feet in so your ankles are straight
5 Stretches for Improving Your Posture
If you are struggling to hold that straight posture, exercises may help, such as:
- Breastbone Pull: Imagine a cord connects to your breastbone and is pulling it upward. Try to hold that position as long as possible before releasing it.
- Chin Tuck: Sit in down and place your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Push your shoulders back and down in a relaxed position. Place two fingers on your chin and gently push back towards your neck. Hold the position for a few seconds and then release it. Do this ten times.
- Shoulder Blade Press: Sit in a chair and place your hands on your thighs. With your shoulders down and chin straight, push your shoulder blades together. Hold for five seconds and then release. Repeat the exercise three times.
- Abdominal Pull: Stand or sit down. Inhale, then release your breath and exhale as you count to five. As you exhale, you should push your abdominal muscles in toward your spine. Repeat three to five times.
- Arm Stretch: Raise your arm and the elbow. Grab just behind the elbow with the other hand and pull the arm across your chest and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat three times, alternating on each side.
Along with exercises, try to be mindful of your posture when you are walking or sitting. If you work at a desk for long periods of time (including for non-work activities like gaming or socially distant Zoom parties), make sure your workspace conforms to your body, not the other way around.
Tips for Preventing Back Pain
There are other things you can do to protect your back, too. For example:
- Make sure to get up and move often. Staying in one position for too long can cause back pain. Try to move every 30 minutes or so.
- Rest one foot on a box or stool when standing for long periods.
- Sleep on a firm mattress.
- Exercise regularly. If you struggle to keep exercising because of the back pain, opt for a gentle fitness routine like aquatics, t’ai chi, or yoga.
- Wear comfortable shoes with a flat heal that offer plenty of support.
Many acute back injuries happen when someone is lifting or picking up something, even if the object isn’t heavy. Proper posture when lifting or bending down to pick up a small object is important for preventing acute muscle strain. When lifting an object, no matter the size, shape, or weight, always:
- Bend from your knees to get down to the object; don’t bend from your waist as this adds strain to your back
- For heavy or large objects, ensure you have a strong grip and hold on the object before lifting
- Lift with your knees
- If the object is particularly large, irregularly shaped, or heavy, ask for assistance
If you are experiencing back pain, photobiomodulation therapy can help reduce your pain by boosting your body’s natural healing processes to fight inflammation and initiate tissue repair. Try photobiomodulation therapy by finding a TheraLight provider in your neighborhood.