Someone asked me the other day, “Why do so many people have lower back pain?” The answer really is very simple….We weren’t meant to walk upright! And so many of us don’t walk upright. We sit and stand with slouched shoulders and we have core muscles that are too weak to hold us upright. With this scenario, our lower back muscles are constantly overworking, doing all the work it takes to hold our upper body erect. Sore back muscles can start at any age. If we assume the position of protecting the heart by slouching our shoulders, the chance for lower back pain is higher than it would be for someone who has been active most of their life and also not carrying extra weight around their middle. We want to walk heart first into our life. When you lead with your heart, you are open and accepting to what is happening.
Try this: Stand with your heels against the baseboard of an open wall and place the back of your head against the wall, along with your shoulders and about halfway down your back and your buttocks. Not easy for you? Then chances are you are walking through life lead by your head and not your heart. Try it again and this time, tuck your tailbone down and under without moving your shoulders, mid back, or buttocks away from the wall. Did you feel your stomach muscles engage? Did your head and shoulders come away from the wall when you tucked in your tailbone?
Doing this exercise and keeping your head, shoulders, buttocks, and halfway down your back against the wall, you can start to feel the muscles that need to work and the ones that need to lengthen. Pay attention to your rib cage. Not just the front, but all around your torso. Now, keeping your head, shoulders, back and buttocks against the wall walk your feet forward and bend your knees. You should be feeling your abdominal muscles fully engage and this should make it easier to hold your position against the wall. This is also working your leg muscles. Make sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor. You can hold here for a bit and slowly come back up. Try it a few times.
Next, holding the above position, bring your arms up against the wall to “goal post” arms. Making a goal post with your arms against the wall. Is this difficult? Are your hands moving away from the wall? Remember to keep all of your back against the wall while holding your arms up. If you can hold this, try moving your elbows into your waist while keeping your arms against the wall. This action is engaging your upper back muscles, which are very important for holding your torso upright. They are as much a part of your core muscles as your stomach muscles are. These upper back muscles are, for most people, very hard to find. Our continual slouching cause these muscles to be underworked, weak and tight. Think about an old rubber band. When you try to stretch it, it breaks. These muscles need to loosen up and also need to be engaged in a conscious way. If the position against the wall is difficult for you and causes pain in your neck or shoulders, you can do the whole thing on the floor. Gravity is a wonderful tool.
Lay on the floor with your knees bent, making a teepee with your knees together and your feet apart. Keep the back of the head flat against the floor, along with your shoulders and all of your back. And do the same as explained above, keeping every part of your back against the floor. Don’t forget to breathe!
Breathing. Let’s talk about that and how that will help your back. While you are lying on the floor with your arms at your side, see if you can hold in your stomach and just breathe through your lungs. Can you inhale each lung fully? Are you noticing one lung inflates more than the other? Is the front of your chest expanding more than the side or back of your torso? Just notice this. And continue to breathe. Try closing your eyes.
If you have a job that keeps you in one position all day, there are things you can do for your back during the day. Seated at a desk? Try putting a block or box under your feet so that your knees extend directly out from your hips. Standing a lot? Try twisting from side to side, rotating your torso while keeping your hips forward. Take a break and walk. Lead with your heart and not your head. Engage your upper back muscles, draw your shoulders back and down, tuck your tailbone down and lengthen the top of your head up. Try a restorative yoga class or hatha yoga. If your back is sore, lay on the floor with your feet on a chair and your knees bent or with your feet up a wall. Breathe as you let go of every part of your body that is against the floor.
You see, it’s not only about relaxing your lower back, but also about engaging the correct muscles to support your lower back. Once these core muscles are activated, your lower back muscles can work more efficiently and with the help of the rest of your body.
As always, consult your doctor if your lower back pain is persistent and is accompanied with leg numbness or tingling.
Lead with your heart into the future!