According to recent statistics around 10 million working days are lost to back pain in the UK each year and around 80% of us will suffer with back pain in our lives. Of this 80% many cases will resolve themselves within a few months but 40-60% will have a recurrence within a year.
Worldwide it’s noted as one of the leading causes of disability. Most shockingly of all is that reports indicate surprisingly few cases of back pain are caused by serious injuries or conditions!
So what an earth is going on?!?
Well let’s take a look.
Before going any further it’s worth mentioning that if you’re suffering from chronic back pain it’s always worth consulting a medical professional to rule out more serious or specific causes.
Let’s assume you’ve done that. You’ve probably been suffering with it for a while, it might even be a recurring problem. You’ve likely had some treatment (including massage, physio etc) and although there is sometimes a bit of relief it often comes back.
Frustrating isn’t it! Not only is it downright painful but it can:
- Stop you doing the sports and activities you love
- Prevent you playing with your family and friends
- Cause you to miss work and effect your ability to make a living.
What can be done about it then?
The first step is to realise that lifestyle factors (both conscious and sub-conscious) have a huge bearing on how your back feels and whether you experience pain there. There are also many, many different lifestyle factors that can cause problems. They include but are not limited to:
- Faulty movement – including posture, muscle imbalances, a weak core, faulty muscle recruitment.
- Hydration Levels
- Work environment.
This means that one of the fastest methods for improving back pain will be to see a professional who can look at it from an holistic point of view and assess you to work out your specific challenges.
In this blog we’re going to look at two of the biggest movement issues that lead to back pain – Poor Posture and a Lack of Core Function.
Most people are now aware that sitting isn’t wonderful for your body, but less know why and even less know what to do about it.
Good posture keeps the body balanced and well aligned and when that’s the case the body can function at its best. Poor posture means that the body is no longer in optimal alignment placing abnormal strains on joints and stresses on muscles leading to compromises in how we function.
A seated posture, which is the most common working environment in the UK, not only puts a strain on the structures of the body at the time but also causes you to develop muscle imbalances which will meddle with you from head to toe. This isn’t helped by sitting down to travel to work most days and then sitting at home to relax! Sitting can cause issues with every part of the body but especially the neck, shoulders and hips. As these are all connected to the spine it isn’t surprising that you can end up with pain anywhere and everywhere through your back.
Over time poor posture and muscle imbalances will cause the bodies structures to be misused which will result in pain and discomfort as well as the potential for much more serious injuries.
A Lack of Core Function
The core has many different jobs that help keep you healthy. It:
- protects your central nervous system and internal organs
- supports your internal organs
- supports your circulatory system.
It is also the foundation for movement and this is where a lack of core function can cause back pain. Core dysfunction is extremely common and caused by a variety of things such as organ health, diet, lifestyle factors and a lack of specific conditioning.
Even people who exercise often have core dysfunction, and back pain, as they tend to focus on the outer unit of the core rather than the inner unit. The inner unit is comprised of the deep muscles running along the spine, the pelvic floor muscles, the deepest abdominal muscle (TVA) and the diaphragm. It is the inner units primary task to stabilise the spine, pelvis and ribs so that your extremities have a stable base to function from.
Without a functioning core you cannot stabilise effectively. This means that the body will have to compensate which again can lead to muscle imbalances and misuse, meaning you are much more susceptible to pain and injury, especially in your back.
As you can see if you don’t have a long term plan for creating a well aligned, functioning body, you are likely to always go through spells of chronic back pain and possibly even more serious injuries.
The good news is that a plan to help improve your posture and turn your core into a properly functioning machine is not that tricky to do!
It is exactly what we do in the first stages of working with any client and we’re going to share a couple of those early stage techniques with you right now.
One of the muscle groups that become most problematic when exposed to seated postures for long periods of time are the hip flexors. They are responsible for bringing your upper leg towards your body, just like the position you’re in when sitting down. So when you’re sat for a long period of time they become tight meaning your pelvis will then be pulled forward sending your spine in to all sorts of funny postures leading to pain and discomfort.
To stretch the hip flexors we use the lunge stretch. To perform it:
- Get in to a lunge position with your back knee on the floor. Your hips should be level. Start to tilt your pelvis backwards (as if you were tucking your tail under you). Then without losing that tilt gently push your hips forward.
- Inhale for 5 seconds whilst gently kicking your back leg down in to the floor to excite the hip flexor muscles.
- Breathe out, stop kicking, and exhale for 5 seconds. Instantly push your hips slightly further forward, reach your hand up to the sky and lean away from the leg you’re stretching. Make sure to keep your pelvis tilted backwards throughout.
- You’re looking to stretch the front of your leg towards the top, right in front of the hip.
- Once you’ve finished your breath out, begin again by breathing in and kicking gently into the floor.
- Each time you breathe out try to relax slightly further in to the stretch.
- Repeat this process 5 times.
4 Point TVA Draw
As we mentioned earlier the TVA muscle is designed to help stabilise the spine and so it’s super important that it’s functioning properly.
To strengthen the TVA we use the 4 Point TVA Draw. To perform it:
- Assume a 4 point position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Take a deep breath in and allow your belly to expand.
- Exhale and draw your belly button back towards your spine (imagine squeezing in to a tight pair of jeans).
- Hold this until you feel the need to breathe in.
- Then relax your TVA and begin to inhale again.
- Perform the TVA Draw 10 times, have a little break and then perform another 2 sets.
- If you find this difficult it is worth practicing every day. If it is fairly easy then you could move to more advanced core exercises such as the horse stance series.
In summary it is important to remember that there are many reasons for back pain and an holistic approach will always be the most effective. As a start point however using techniques to improve your posture and core stability will often make huge differences to how your back feels and moves.
To understand the above techniques in more detail and to learn some others keep your eyes peeled for more content plus upcoming workshops. The workshops covers the exercises, and more, in comprehensive detail plus you’ll have access to exclusive coaching videos reminding you of all the intricacies that really get you those accelerated, lasting results.
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For more individualised support we’d encourage booking in for a free consultation. It’s a chance for you to tell us all about your pain plus do some mini assessments to get a better idea of what’s going on and if we can help. Most importantly you can bounce any questions or thoughts you have to help you choose the best path moving forward.
Until next time.