Have you ever asked yourself how many hours you sit in a day?
I didn't think about it much until I was in school for physical therapy, I sat for 12 hours a day. 12 hours is a scary number of hours to be sitting! I remember standing up after a long day of studying with a terrible ache in my lower back. I would take a few minutes to stretch the pain away, but knew that it would come back the next day after sitting for 12 more hours. As a physical therapist, I knew I had to improve my back’s health before it turned into a serious problem.
I know I’m not the only one. In fact, the leading cause of disability worldwide is low back pain (LBP). Total cost spent on treating LBP in the United States surpasses $200 billion! If you’re anything like me or the average American, you’ve probably experienced some degree of lower back pain like I did.
What can you do to stop or reduce the pain?
The key to managing low back pain is diminishing the cause and increasing preventative care. One easy cause that can be fixed is limiting your time spent sedentary (TV-watching, sitting at a desk, lying down). One study conducted with school teachers found that if teachers sat watching television for longer than 60 minutes 5 days per week, they were more susceptible to chronic pain. It also showed that decreased movement is linked to having a lower threshold of pain, which means we can develop more pain the less we move, especially in the lower back and limbs.
Simply moving more can help to recover from and prevent LBP. The key is to have a maintenance routine which promotes stability and flexibility of the spine. As a doctor of physical therapy, I enjoy utilizing yoga-inspired movements to help prevent and decrease low back pain, because studies have linked participating in physical therapy and yoga practices to successful pain management.
5 Yoga Inspired Exercises to Prevent & Reduce Back Pain
Plank pose and bird-dog are movements which target the deep spinal stabilizers to improve core strength and overall stability. Segmental standing forward fold, child’s pose, and cobra pose promote healthy movements of the spine to maintain full flexibility of the vertebral joints above and below the lumbar spine (known as the lower back).
Start on hands and knees on a cushioned mat to decrease pressure on wrists. Shift weight into hands and press into balls of feet to straighten legs. Hips are slightly lower than your shoulder to create a straight diagonal line from head to heels. Press down through hands to protract (pull apart) the shoulder blades. Pull belly button into the spine and close the rib cage by contracting the abdominals.
Start with holding the plank for 20 seconds repeating 3 times. Gradually increase to one minute.
Start lying face down with hands underneath shoulders, palms down. Flex your glutes and quadriceps and press tops of feet into the mat. Push up through hands to straighten arms and gently arch your back. You may choose to lift just slightly, keeping arms mostly bend, or straighten them more if your lower back allows, but always maintain a slight bend in your elbows. Gently arch your back and drawing your chest forward. Keep neck long with eye gaze looking ahead or slightly downward.
Hold for 3 secs and rhythmically repeat 5 to 10 times. Increase or decrease the arch of your back as needed.
Disclaimer: If you already have back pain, sometimes backward bending increases the pain. If this happens, discontinue cobra pose.
Segmental Standing Forward Fold
Start standing with feet separated about hip-distance apart. Drop chin to chest, then round slowly downward, rolling vertebra by vertebra and reaching toward the ground until you are folding at the hips. Let arms drop down to the floor like a rag doll. Slowly move back up in reverse with the head last.
Repeat 2 to 3 times, holding for 30 secs
Disclaimer: If you already have back pain, sometimes forward bending increases the pain. If this happens, discontinue the forward fold.
Start on hands and knees with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, about hip’s width apart or slightly wider. Sink hips back to rest on heels. Allow your chest to sink down towards the mat, then extend arms out in front of you and let them rest on the mat.
Option 1: Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Option 2: Rhythmically, move from hands and knees to child’s pose repeating 10 to 20 times.
Start on hands and knees with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Engage your core by drawing your belly button in towards spine and ribs closed by engaging core.
Reach opposite arm and leg parallel to the floor with hips, shoulders, and back level. Slowly lower hand and leg down towards floor. Repeat on the other side.
Perform 2 to 3 sets, 10 to 20 times.
Perform this routine about 5 times per week if you are recovering from an episode of back pain or if you sit much of day. You can decrease to 3 to 4 times per week for maintenance of flexibility and stability.
Saper RB, Lemaster C, Delitto A, et al. Yoga, Physical Therapy, or Education for Chronic Low Back Pain. Ann Intern Med. 2017;167(2). doi:10.7326/M16-2579.
Santos MCS, de Andrade SM, Gonzalez AD, Dias DF, Mesas AE. Association Between Chronic Pain and Leisure Time Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior in Schoolteachers. Behav Med. 2017. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08964289.2017.1384358.