Relieve lower back pain with movement, yoga
by Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on August 20, 2014. Posted with permission.
Low back pain is a jolt. Or it’s a dull ache. Maybe it’s a throb. It’s one of the top five reasons people visit the doctor.
You might have a chronic disorder such as arthritis, scoliosis or spinal stenosis. You may have had a trauma or injury that damaged the spinal bones and tissues: enthusiastic hammer swings, up-and-downs in the garden, or the dreaded box lift with the back instead of the legs.
Or, more likely, you are probably one of the many millions who sit all day, and when you aren’t sitting, you’re driving. This constant sitting shortens the hamstrings and the psoas muscles which strains the lower back.
If your back pain lasts longer than three days, immobilizes you, or you suspect injury, the matter should be addressed by a physician.
Otherwise, a few minor adjustments in movement and targeted gentle stretches can offer relief.
- Walk this way.
Esther Gokhale, known as the “Back Guru” and the “Back Whisperer,” is the author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. To relieve back pain, she suggests sufferers rethink how they walk.
“A healthy gait offers repetition for the glutes and a stretch for the psoas with every step. It’s worth the effort to learn that,” Gokhale said in a telephone interview.
According to Gokhale, most people pull the body forward with the quads when they walk. Instead, she suggests pushing the body forward with the glutes. This maintains a healthy sway in the lower back and holds your butt behind you so the rest of your body can stack well.
To begin practicing this gait, find the gluteus medius, the muscle at the top of your butt. First, while standing, lean against the back of a chair. Lift one leg behind you and flex the foot. Set some music to a strong beat and repeatedly pulse the leg up and down. When you feel the burn, you know the muscle will be easy to find.
Now that you know where the muscle is, take a walk while squeezing your gluteus medius. If you are using your glutes pack, you’ll tone your backside as you walk. This strengthens your built-in wedge cushion for sitting, and you’ll have better posture.
Visit www.GokhaleMethod.com for more information.
2. Fix your seat.
Begin your sitting practice at the edge of the chair. Reach behind you, and pull all the padding out from under your butt so you are directly on your sitting bones. Without being tucked, your butt is now a behind. Don’t emphasize the curve in your lower back; sway naturally.
Fix the slump and gently stack. Push your right shoulder forward, up, back, and then drop it into your back. Adjust the left shoulder. Your head is centered.
You may need to pull your keyboard closer.
When you’re comfortable sitting this way in the chair, you can add a floor practice. Take a comfortable cross-legged position. If your knees are not touching the floor, sit on a bolster or meditation pillow to lift your seat. You may need more than one folded blanket or even a meditation bench under you to coax your knees downward and your hips open, stretching the psoas.
3. Stretch Your Hamstrings.
Begin with standing forward bend. Be aware that the goal of forward bend is not to touch the floor but to connect your belly to your thighs. While standing with feet hip distance apart, gently bend your knees and hinge your upper body forward from the hips. Your neck is neutral. If your upper back begins to curve, you’ve gone too far. Keep your heart lifted until your belly touches your thighs. Your hands can move to your hips or thighs. If you are comfortable, straighten your legs to stretch the hamstrings but only to the extent that your back remains straight.
A warning from Bonita Springs Joyful Yoga yogi Emily Chiodo: In any forward fold, do not do the familiar “roll up one vertebra at a time.” If your hamstrings are tight, your pelvis will not tip forward in the fold. This further compresses the low back. When you roll up, you’re adding the weight of your head and upper body, intensifying the compression. This is counterproductive when you are trying to alleviate back pain. For this reason, Joyful Yoga has eliminated the roll up from all classes. Instead, maintain the natural curve in the lower back, and lift up from your heart with a neutral neck.
Move to the floor with extended legs for a seated hamstring stretch. Pull the padding out from under your sitting bones, and wrap a strap around the balls of your feet. With your hands holding the ends of the straps, lead with your heart and hinge forward from the hips. Your heart should remain lifted, your shoulder blades down your back and your tail out behind you. If your back begins to curve or you tuck your butt, pull back on the stretch until your back is straight; microbend your knees and hold.
Continue with the strap. Fully recline on your back. The right leg is bent with the sole of the foot on the floor. The left is extended to the ceiling. Wrap the strap around the ball of the left foot, and bend your knee if necessary. The small of your back should be on the floor. Stretch the leg, straight or with a microbend, and hold for a minute. Then, hold both ends of the strap in your left hand, and open your leg toward the floor. Hold. Don’t twist from the belly or lift your back or hips from the floor. Return the leg to the ceiling, and switch hands with the strap. Gently drop the leg slightly an inch or two across the body to stretch the tight outer hamstring. Switch legs.
4. Get into your hips.
Low lunge. Begin on your knees and step your right foot forward in a 90-degree bend. Make sure your right knee is directly over your ankle and not shooting over the toes. Slide your left knee back and drop your hips. Use a folded blanket or towel under your knee for support. Switch sides.
From low lunge, you can move into Pigeon variation called Thread the Needle. Lie on your back, bend both of your legs and place the soles of your feet on the floor. Cross your left ankle over your right knee and gently push your left knee open, stretching the left hip. If you wish, grab your right thigh and pull the bent right leg to your chest. Switch sides.
By practicing a new gait and seat daily and stretching the hamstrings and psoas three times a week, you can deliver much needed relief to the lower back.