This month I’ve started boxing up my sweaters and thermals and have begun planting seedlings for a little salsa garden. Spring is a time of transition. This time of year I usually find myself cleaning out all the winter decor I forgot to take down from Christmas and digging into crawl spaces and top closet shelves to phase out the old and bring in the new. If I’m not careful while doing all these chores, it doesn’t take long before my back begins to ache and the pain puts me on the couch for a few hours to rest.
Studies show that around 90% of adult back pain is mechanical in nature, meaning an injury has occured to a structure in the back be it bone, muscle, ligament, or other soft tissue. Sometimes this injury happens from a single event, like a car accident or a fall, and we can use that event to determine what structures are injured and estimate how long it will take for recovery.
Other times this injury happens slowly and over a long period of time. When asked about it, people usually say, “I don’t know what happened, one day I just noticed that it hurt. Maybe I slept wrong.” This kind of injury is usually caused by lifestyle habits, and will take some training to fix.
Bad posture is a huge contributor to back pain. Most of us sit with our lower backs curved, leaning forward with our shoulders rounded and our neck bent down to look at what we’re doing with our hands. This position is easy to relax into because it doesn’t take any muscle work and allows you to rest on your ligaments, making your skeleton take the weight of your whole upper body.
Normally, the skeleton has no issue supporting your body weight, but in this position gravity pulls in all sorts of odd ways which cause stress in places that the bones and ligaments are not used to. This kind of positioning over time will cause the muscles to weaken, with the muscles across the chest shortening and the muscles across the back lengthening. This makes it more difficult to break the habit of bad posture.
What can I do?
Whether you have past experience with back pain or not, one of the best things you can do is try to prevent it before it starts. Establishing a regular exercise routine will help you get on top of your pain and strengthen the muscles needed for core and postural stabilization.
Transversus Abdominis Strengthening
One of my favorite tools for combating back pain is transversus abdominis (TA) strengthening. The abdominal muscles are made up of several groups, all of which pull in different directions to allow for improved stability. The TA wraps around your midsection like a corset, with the fibers running laterally.
When it contracts, the TA supports the core and positions the spine in a way that decreases joint pressure. If you experience low back pain, TA strengthening is a great starting point for decreasing the discomfort you are feeling.
Finally, the neck plays a large role in back pain. If the head is held upright over the spine, it typically weighs around 8 – 12 lbs. As you bend your neck forward, your head will begin to feel heavier. Depending how far forward you bend, your neck can be exerting up to 60 lbs of force trying to hold your head up. This can cause headaches, upper back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain. This can be alleviated by fixing neck posture, sitting upright and being aware of the angle your head is held at.
To make this easier, you can do chin tucks to strengthen your deep neck flexors. Chin tucks are a simple exercise that can make a big difference in headache frequency and neck pain.
To do this exercise, hold your head upright with ears over shoulders and look straight forward. Bring your whole head backward, keeping your gaze forward. You may feel a gentle stretching sensation at the base of your skull when doing this correctly.
Taking the next step
If your back pain is persistent, consider going to a physical therapist. Here at Align, most of our patients experience back pain. We have a solid foundation of experience that allows us to offer the best treatment you can get with back pain rehab.
If you are interested in specialized hands-on care, reach out and schedule a free consultation with one of our licensed therapists. During the consultation, we will discuss treatment options and help you make an informed decision that is unique to you.
Make this spring the last one that sidelines you because of your pain. Change your habits and find the freedom you’ve been looking for through physical therapy.
Janessa Brink, PTA