Editor’s Note: Join Dana Santas for a four-part series to learn how you can recover from and prevent low back pain. Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.” Here’s Part IV.
Too often, after fruitless searches for a single magic bullet to eradicate chronic back pain, people decide that living with discomfort is a normal fact of life. But living with back pain is not normal, nor is it necessary. This last installment in our back pain series will empower you to create your own, personalized long-term strategy for maintaining back health and living an active, pain-free lifestyle.
If you’ve been following along, you will remember that in the first article, we covered how back pain is a very personal experience with varying causes and equally diverse treatment options, but that research has shown exercise to be the most effective means of achieving lasting relief. I also explained the importance of establishing a mind-body connection and leveraging the power of breathing to not only quell your pain response but also restore proper rib cage, pelvic and spinal alignment to take pressure off your back.
In the second article, we looked at why your body needs movement to heal, and I outlined a variety of exercises to try to determine which ones work for you. For those of you suffering with sciatic symptoms, in the third installment, we looked specifically at exercises to soothe sciatica.
Finally, it’s time to put together a long-term, exercise-based plan to keep you out of pain.
Important note: As with any exercise program, consult your physician before starting.
Across the preceding articles and videos in this series, I’ve shared more than a dozen exercise options, prompting you to try all of them while listening carefully to your body to determine which ones helped you achieve relief and start regaining strength and mobility.
To put together your long-term back care strategy, you will need to continue to trust and develop your instincts. Don’t be afraid to rely on your mind-body connection to guide you in selecting the right exercises to incorporate into daily life and to address specific needs as your back occasionally sends you signals that it requires extra attention or slightly different approaches.
These signals may be as strong as the temporary return of sciatic symptoms or as gentle as a whisper of a back muscle feeling a little out of place. Because you have now invested time and energy into getting to know how your body responds to different exercises and techniques, in each instance, you will simply need to go back to what has worked before.
You should feel empowered to be proactive and confident in your own self-care!
There is no passive approach that will keep your back healthy. Because your body is designed for movement, daily exercise will serve as your most effective preventive medicine. In fact, in addition to keeping you pain free, as little as 11 minutes of moderate exercise daily can also help you live longer, according to research.
There are many ways to achieve your 11 minutes or more of daily exercise. Because we’re focused on your back health, you should pick three of the exercises from the previous articles in the series that helped you find relief and incorporate them into your daily routine.
Due to the role your breathing pattern plays in maintaining posture and alignment, I strongly advise including the breathing bridge exercise as one of your three.
Your three back-care exercises should only take you a few minutes to complete, so you’ll need to incorporate some other daily exercise to help you reach that minimum threshold. Consider this 10-minute, body-weight exercise routine, or, if you’re new to exercising, my reboot your workout series can help.
Whether it’s as, or in addition to, your daily exercise allotment, I highly recommend at least eight to 10 minutes of mindful walking each day. As you take each step, be aware of the synchronicity of the movements involved and your ability to breathe well as you walk.
Walking is an alternating and reciprocal pattern, which simply means that while one side of the body is doing one thing, the other is doing the opposite to create a complete movement. This includes the upper and lower halves of your body and incorporates all of the supporting spinal muscles. Proper foot position and heel strike enable you to absorb shock and move your body weight with balance and control. Arm swing is essential to a functional walking pattern because it creates healthy movement of the rib cage in coordination with each step, facilitating the necessary core, hip and trunk power that helps prevent stress on the spine.
Maybe walking has been painful for you in the past – but it’s likely muscles that have been contributing to your back pain have been to blame. By mindfully training your gait to be a symphony in motion, you’ll be able to initiate and maintain healthy movement to prevent future pain.
For some simple-to-follow tips for proper walking mechanics, watch the video at the top of this article.
Living pain free does not mean limiting your activities or numbing your pain with pharmaceuticals. It’s important to proactively keep moving! Take note when you’ve been sitting for an hour or more and proactively get up, stretch and move to counteract the impact of sitting on your back muscles and posture.
Once you’ve discovered the right daily exercises to keep you out of pain and begin experiencing consistent benefits, you’ll find that you’re more and more motivated to exercise. That’s because your body is designed to reward you for giving it what it needs to be healthy and strong. Exercise impacts our physiology, increasing feel-good hormone production and decreasing our stress response. And, just like anything that feels good and produces positive results, you’ll want more of it.
I encourage you to work through all the articles in the series and find exercises that work for you to create an effective self-care program that moves you out of pain – and help you prevent pain in the future. It has been my goal with this series to empower you with education and resources to proactively take care of your back and live better.