Your backbone is important. These 24 vertebrae, separated by 23 cushiony discs, gives your body the structure and support it requires to move efficiently. Your back is an amazing engineering accomplishment—but many people have serious and chronic back problems. About 80% of Americans report suffering from back pain at some point, according to statistics reported by the National Institutes of Health.
Esther Gokhale, a licensed acupuncturist, explains that poor posture is a major contributor to the problem, and a factor that many doctors may overlook. Many people slump or slouch, which can lead to a rounded back rather than a straight spine. Carrying heavy purses or wearing high heels does not help the situation.
At the Gokhale Method Institute, many back pain sufferers have found relief by learning the proper ways to sit, stand, walk, and bend over. This approach has allowed many to improve their quality of life and shows promise for helping back pain sufferers get through without drugs, injections or surgery.
Alexander Vaccaro, M.D., Ph.D., a spine surgeon and president of Philadelphia’s Rothman Institute agrees with Gokhale, stating, “A lot of the gimmicks people spend money on—special chairs, every type of brace—don’t really work. Good posture, with proper alignment, does.”
Here are a few tips from Gokhale that can help you get rid of your back pain.
1. Sit properly
When you sit with your tailbone tucked beneath you, you are causing your spine to round which can lead to lower back pain. When you are hunched over your desk or your meal you are doing the same thing. This places excessive stress on your neck and shoulder muscles, which can lead to stiffness in your back and pain.
Instead, focus on keeping your mid-back flat and straightening your neck. Keep your shoulders aligned, and check periodically by rolling them up and back. Tighten your core for more support. When your spine is erect and straight, your discs stay in the right shape. When you hunch over, you compress them and this can lead to damage and/or pain.
2. Stand properly
It’s important to learn how to stand properly. Many people make it a habit to sink down on one hip and round the upper back. Don’t be tempted to stick out your chest and cause your lower back to sway.
Instead, hold your spine flat, just like you would when you were in a proper sitting position. Keep your weight evenly distributed on both legs. Flex your knees slightly to avoid creating sway in your back, and keep your weight on your heels.
3. Bend properly
Most people fail to realize just how much bending that they do throughout the day. We bend to pick up things off the floor, or make a bed, along with tons of other tasks. When we do, we usually crunch at the waist and round our lower and mid-backs, which can compress the discs. When we do this too often, it can lead to impingement on the nerves and pressure on the spine.
Instead, like sitting and standing, keep your back flat. In order to do this, you will have to tilt your hips forward. To practice, place your hands on your hipbones with your fingers in the front and thumbs in the back. Push down with your fingers and allow your body to follow. Pick up light objects in this position.
4. Sleep properly
Because you probably spend about one third of your life in bed, it is important to protect your back while you are sleeping. Those who sleep on their stomachs with their legs perfectly straight will probably have the worst back problems as a result. Gokhale recommends “stretch-lying” which can help reduce pressure on your nerves and discs.
To do this, lie on your back with a pillow under your knees. Prop your body up on your elbows and place your hands on your hips. Slowly roll your body back down, one vertebrae at a time. Doing this helps to lengthen your spine. When you spend only 15 minutes in this position, Gokhale claims, “You’re resetting the resting length of the muscles, and the nerves are decompressed.” Authors of a study published in The Lancet suggest that sleeping on your side with your knees bent may be the best way to reduce stress on your spine.
If you suffer from back pain, pay attention to these tips and see if they might help you get some relief!