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Back Breaking!
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By Nawaz Modi Singhania  

Most of the millions of people who are victims of lower back pain, continue to think that there must be a more specific way, perhaps even surgery, to cure them of their woes. They can't seem to accept the simple fact that exercise is the best, & the most potent medicine available to treat a back problem.

Exercise is almost invariably better for your back than anything else you can put onto or into your body!

The same can't be said of painkillers & anti-inflammatory medications, for instance, although these drugs are prescribed on a regular basis for those with back pain.

The fact is, as little as eight to ten minutes of exercise a day, for a couple of weeks, will bring about a striking degree of improvement for most people.

Prolonged bed rest is now recognized as the culprit for generating a host of other uninvited guests such as bone loss, blood clots in the legs & general weakness.

If you have consulted your doctor about your back problem, you may have received some exercise advice already. If not, it's a good idea to bring the subject up yourself.



  Causes of back pain

The low back is a site of frequent problems caused by congenital abnormalities, poor posture, postural deviations, & poor body mechanics such as incorrect sitting & lifting postures. All of these conditions can be remedied through exercise.

Sudden violent twisting, extension or hyperextension movements may injure the ligaments & the muscles of the back. Lack of trunk flexibility & weak abdominal muscles also contribute to low back pain. Incorrect posture or faulty body mechanics put a tremendous strain on the muscles & ligaments of the low back. Lifting heavy objects wrongly- using the back instead of the legs- by not bending the legs but just bending over instead, is an example of poor body mechanics that must be corrected in order to maintain a healthy back. Back problems occur more frequently & become more severe with age.

Smoking:

Aside from the negative impact on your heart & lungs, smoking damages the disks of the spine too, through it's effect on the blood circulation. Nicotine & other components of cigarette smoke compromise the network of tiny blood vessels throughout the body that feed all the tissues, including the intervertebral disks.

Surveys have identified cigarette smoke as one of the major risk factors for back pain.

Alcohol:

Like smoking, alcohol also restricts the blood vessels & can contribute to poor circulation around the disks. Moderate drinking contributes very little to disk degeneration, but alcohol abuse can lead to severe back consequences.



  How exercise can help your back

Exercise both strengthens & stretches the four basic sets of muscles that support the spine.

The abdominal muscles are responsible for contributing towards good posture, in maintaining proper vertebral alignment, & thereby protecting the back. The abdominals assist the extensor muscles of the back, which run the length of the spine to maintain proper alignment of the vertebrae. Trunk flexibility must be emphasized to maintain maximum range of motion in the back. The hip & butt muscles help support & govern the position of your back while you sit, stand, walk around & even lie down.

As far as exercise goes, for back sufferers it is generally said that the slower, the better. Vigorous & jerky movements are self-defeating. It could be said- Any pain, no gain.

Make sure you do this with the advice of your medical practitioner.

It's best to work out, in conjunction with your doctor & physical trainer, the exercises that best suit your needs, depending on the location, type, severity & duration of your back pain. There may be certain restrictions imposed upon you by your personal medical history.

Stretching exercises will relieve spasms, pain & strain on the back. Strengthening exercises must be added once the acute symptoms of back pain have subsided.

Listen to your body. Don't risk injury by pushing through pain.

Your exercise choices should match your level of fitness, age, time schedule & comfort level.



  Correct Positioning

The chair you sit in, the bed you sleep on, the position you sit, stand & walk in, all collectively affect the back. It's important to choose & assume the best positions for these & other daily activities.

As practice becomes habit, you won't have to think continuously about how you're sitting or holding your head. They will have become second nature to you!

Getting out of bed

Getting out of bed incorrectly can actually aggravate the back. To make the process easy on your back, sidle over to the edge of the bed, while lying on your side with your knees bent, facing the edge. If you're lying on your left side, place your right hand on the mattress in front of you, & in one fluid motion, push down with your right hand. Swing yourself upright while taking your legs off the bed & setting your feet on the floor. Now, keeping your back straight, stand up.

Standing

As your mother probably often told you, stand straight & don't slouch! Keep your stomach & butt tucked in, & the rest of your body will tend to follow suit & get in line. Your abdominals give the lower back adequate support when they are in this tucked-in position.

The importance of good posture can't be overemphasized as a way to speed up the recovery of lower back pain, & as a means of preventing future bouts.

Sitting

More important than the chair you sit on, is the amount of time that you spend sitting. As sitting provides the maximum amount of back aggravation- more than standing or lying down- you might want to limit the amount of time you spend in this position. Whenever possible, try & take a break from your chair by standing up to stretch or walk around.

Common sitting habits that could cause you grief include slouching in your seat, leaning too far back, & crossing your legs. Instead, try resting your feet on a foot bar or a footstool, to help you sit tall & keep the pressure off the back of your thighs.

Your chair should give you a firm back & bottom support so as to avoid any strain or discomfort. Make sure your feet rest well on the floor while sitting, & your knees do not bend more than at right angles.

Chatting on the phone

The temptation to free your hands by cradling your phone between your shoulder & your ear, & leaving it there indefinitely, is almost too irresistible. However this way you can easily talk yourself into having a pain in the neck & even the upper back!

If you must have your hands free when on the phone, then get onto a speakerphone or invest in a headset that gives you the mobility that you need.

Working

If you have a regular desk job, consider allowing yourself to assume a new position while working. Sitting for long periods of time can aggravate the back. Many people report that they can work more effectively on their feet.

If you use the PC a lot, then try to rearrange your workstation so that the monitor & papers/ files that you might be working out of are at eye level, to avoid straining the back & neck.

Reading

Reading while lying down in bed can strain your shoulders, neck & back. Reading is best done while sitting at a desk or in a comfortable armchair instead.

Driving

Many survey participants are most comfortable when their car seats are aligned so that their backs are at right angles with their thighs. This provides maximum driving comfort for most people. Also, keep the driver's seat as close as possible to the steering wheel. This will enable you to sit with your knees well aligned with your hips, & you do away with the strain that often comes from reaching out too far for the wheel. Using the armrest on the side of the door often helps.

When getting in & out of your car, make sure you avoid stretching your legs out too far or awkwardly twisting the body. When getting in, just turn your back to the seat so that you can sit straight down. Then bring your legs in & turn around to face forward. Similarly, when getting out, move to the edge of the seat, turn sideways, put your feet on the floor & stand straight up.

Sleeping

Sleeping on your stomach, though it's a position many people love, is the roughest on your back! If you can't break this habit, no matter how hard you try, then at least try to do without a pillow under your head. Put it under your stomach instead, in order to minimize the arching of your back.

Multiple studies have shown that even when people get back on their feet because of exercise, they tend to abandon the programme shortly after recovery, probably out of a sense of false security. They don't think they could ever be in the same compromising position again. Unfortunately, statistics proves them wrong. Dropping the exercise programme is an invitation for the pain & spasm to return; and it often returns with a vengeance.

Be smart, & play it safe.

Note: This article is not a substitute for medical advice! Your exercises must be chosen & tailored carefully, taking into account your back history, level of fitness, age, time schedule & comfort level. An "off-the-rack" exercise programme can't possibly suit you as well as a programme designed with your needs in mind.

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