For a Healthy Spine, Move Mindfully
World Spine Day is October 16, so it seems fitting to think about the health of your back. As back pain has become more common, people are looking for ways to ease or avoid back pain and protect their spine from harm. It turns out, there is something important that everyone can do. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do for your back. Even better? It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s in your hands. The answer? Movement.
Of course, if you’ve had back pain in the past or you currently have back pain, you might be reluctant to move. If your back pain was triggered by a certain movement, such as lifting a heavy object, you may feel especially uneasy about repeating that movement. That’s understandable. But being inactive may keep your back from healing. And that can prolong your pain.
The key is to move mindfully. That means be careful and smart about how you move. You may need to move more slowly at times. You may need to change how you do some tasks. And you may need to avoid certain movements, at least initially. Moving in a mindful way can help keep your back healthy. Here are 7 tips to help you.
Tip #1: Try to maintain a neutral spine position as you move. Your spine is strongest and most stable in this position. And this position helps support and protect your spine as you move and bear weight.
Here’s how to find your neutral lumbar spine while you’re standing. First, arch your back as far as you can. Next, tuck your buttocks under as far as you can. And finally, find the midway point and stay there. That midway point will be different for everyone based on their flexibility and other factors.
Tip #2: Brace your abdominal muscles. Tightening your deep abdominal muscles can help you maintain that neutral spine position. And it can help keep your spine stable as you move.
Here’s a good exercise to help you learn how to tighten and strengthen your deep abdominal muscles. Lay on your back on a firm surface where you can maintain your neutral lumbar spine. Bend your knees up and place your feet flat on the surface. Keeping the arch in your low back, pull your belly button towards your spine using your deep stomach muscles as if bracing for someone to punch you in the stomach. Now back off from the maximum contraction so that you can just hold your neutral spine position. Hold that position for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times.
Do this exercise often. The more you practice, the stronger those muscles become and the easier it will be to maintain that neutral spine. Brace your abdominal muscles when you move in any way. It is especially helpful when you lift and carry items. In those cases, the heavier the item, the more you should tighten and brace your muscles.
Tip #3: When you lift, let the muscles of your legs do the work instead of your back. You don’t want to bend over and try to lift something. That can strain your back. Instead, squat down in any way you can that is pain free and grasp the item while maintaining your neutral spine. Then push up with your legs to stand. Keep the item close to your body as you stand.
Tip #4: Do not rotate as you lift items. First squat down, grasp the object, and stand up straight. Make sure to keep a neutral spine and push up with your legs. Then, pivot with your feet, rather than twisting your spine.
Tip #5: If you need to bend at the waist, hinge at your hips. You don’t want to flex your spine. But rather, maintain the neutral spine posture. Then shift your hips back and flex from your hips.
Tip #6: Don’t rush. It’s better to take your time. Move slowly and deliberately. This is true especially when you are moving in ways that might aggravate your back pain. That might include when you are getting in or out of a car, when you are lifting items, or when you are turning around. Slowing down can help you be more aware and careful about how you move.
Tip #7: If a certain movement causes you back pain, take a closer look at what you’re doing. Watch yourself or have someone else watch you as you move. Are your neck and back in line? Do you twist from the spine? Do you use your back muscles instead of the stronger muscles in your buttocks and legs? Find out what you’re doing that causes the pain and then try to modify it. Look for a pain-free way to do it while maintaining good posture.
Mindful movement can help you keep moving even if your back is hurting. And moving can in turn help heal your back and ease your pain. Mindful movement can also help you avoid reinjuring your back.