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What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively
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Eight out of ten adults experience lower back pain once in their lifetime. I am one of those people and I’m definitely not looking forward to my participation award. I know how it feels like to step out of bed and barely being able to put on your socks. Having lower back pain sucks. But 9 out of 10 patients that suffer from lower back pain don’t even know the primary cause of it.

Video Summary

Back Pain? Blame Our Evolution

Once upon a time in our fairly recent past, our ancestors felt the urgency to stand up and leave our quadruped neighbors behind. Habitual bipedalism, fancy word for regularly walking on two legs, came with a lot of advantages. With two rear limbs instead of four, we were able to more efficiently use our hands and create tools with them.

Sadly, life on two legs also brought along its disadvantages. Our spine had four supporting pillars previously, but now it only got two. The back is therefore naturally one of the weak links of our human anatomy. Our spine needs constant support from its supporting muscles to minimize the load on the spine. With no muscle support (tested on dead bodies) the back can only bear loads up to 5 pounds without collapsing [reference Panjabi 1989]. With well-developed torso muscles, the spine can take loads up to 2000 pounds. That’s a 400-fold increase.

Most people that come to me with a history of a herniated disc (that’s when the discs between the vertebral bodies are fully collapsed, really severe incident), tell me the ‘story of the pencil’. The injury with the following severe pain usually gets triggered by picking up a small, everyday object. Such as a pencil. Not as you may think by trying to lift 100 pounds – no, but by a simple thing – such as a pencil.

This tells us that damage in your back adds up over time, it’s a so called cumulative trauma disorder. Meaning back pain is a result of your daily habits.

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Whenever I sit for too long, my back hurts. In fact, 54% of Americans who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. But isn’t sitting something that should reduce the stress of your back? No, just the opposite.

The joints between the bones of the spine are not directly linked to the blood supply. These joints instead get nourished through a process called diffusion. Diffusion works because molecules (such as oxygen, important for cells) are constantly moving and try to get as much space for themselves as they can. A key element for diffusion therefore is a pressure difference. In the image below the left room contains more moving molecules than the right, that’s why the molecules from the left are moving to the right. This way nutrition gets transformed into the joints, whereas toxins are transported out of the joints.

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Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spinal chord. The diffusion process therefore can’t function as efficiently. Nutrition and toxins can’t be properly transported, the joints get damaged.

    Sit Properly

    If sitting can play such a huge part in the creation of your lower back pain, how do you sit properly then?

    Is it better to sit with a straight back or should you rather lay back in your chair? Can I cross my legs when I’m sitting or should I have a symmetrical position with my feet? These are questions that I hear on a daily basis. The answer might shock you – according to recent science – all of them are right. The best sitting position is an ever-changing one. An ever-changing position minimizes the pressure on certain points of your spine and spreads it on the whole part.

      Credit: StayWow

      Stand Up More

      Even better than a sitting position is a stand up position. Standing dramatically reduces the pressure on your spine. If you’re forced to work on a desk the whole day though, you have two options.

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      Take breaks every hour of about 2-3 minutes.

      Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour! In that time you stand up and reach to the ceiling, on your toe tips with fully extended arms. You’re inhaling during the whole process. You do this activity for 20 seconds. Afterwards you’re walking through the office for the next 2 minutes. You might grab a healthy snack or some water in that time. The exercise relieves the pressure on your spine, while the walking makes sure that the joints on your spine are properly used.

      Or get a standing desk.

      One of the best companies on the market for Standing Desks, according to my research, is Autonomous. Autonomous offers a rather cheap Standing Desk, with the ability to change the height. Which means you can start the day standing and switch to sitting if you’re tired.

      Exercise for Lower Back Pain

      Sitting is an immobile position. Your joints are made for movement and therefore need movement to function properly. If humans are moving, all moving parts: e.g. the joints, bones and muscles get strengthened. If you’re in a rested position for too long, your tissues start to deteriorate. You have to get the right amount of activity in.

      But not too much activity. There’s a chance that going to the gym may even increase your risk of lower back pain. I know plenty of friends with chiseled bodies that suffer from pain in the spine regularly. Huge muscles do not prevent you from back pain. In your training you should focus on building up the muscles that are stabilizing your back and relieve pressure. Squats with 400 pounds don’t do the trick.

      The more weight you carry around, the more weight your spinal chord has to bear on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why huge, muscular guys can suffer from back pain too. One of the most important goals of your exercise regimen should therefore be weight loss.

      Here are some important tips for you to consider when starting an exercise regimen:

      Make sure you implement cardiovascular training in your workout routine.

      This will not only help you lose weight, it will also make sure that your arteries, which flow to the tissue next to your spinal discs, are free of placque and can therefore transport nutrients properly.

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      Important: If you have rather strong back pain, maybe even an herniated disc, don’t start running on a threadmill. Running is an high-impact exercise. Which means there are continuous, reocurring high pressure points on your spine. Your endurance training should therefore either be fast-paced walking or a training on the elliptical trainer for the beginning, because both have little to no stressful impact on your backbone.

      Focus on developing your whole core if you want to minimize your pain.

      There are some people that do hundreds of sit ups a day. While sit ups are a good exercise for your abdomen, it also puts pressure on your spine due to the bending movement. A sixpack workout routine is one-sided. Your abs may become overdeveloped in comparison to your back muscles. You’ve created an imbalance. A great way to train your abdominal muscles and back muscles simultaneously, is holding the plank position.

      Stretch only if you have tight muscles.

      I remember stretching every morning after I woke up. I took 10 minutes out of my day to just work on my flexibility and prevent injuries. Little did I know that I was actually promoting an injury, by doing so.

      Contrary to common belief, stretching is only partially beneficial to treating lower back pain. Stretching makes sense if tight muscles (such as the hamstrings) are forcing you to constantly bend your back. Stretching to treat pain doesn’t make sense if you’re already on a good level of flexibility. Hyper-mobility may even enforce back pain.

      If you found out that you had tight muscles that you need to stretch, try to stretch them at least three times a week. Don’t stretch your muscles right after you wake up in the morning. This is because your spinal discs soak themselves up in fluid over the nighttime. Every bending and excessive loads on your spine is much worse in that soaked-up state. Postpone your stretching regime to two-to three hours after you’ve woken up.

      Where to Start

      The key to improving your habits is awareness. Try to get aware of your back while you’re sitting down, laying down or lifting an object next time. This awareness of your body is called proprioception. For example, you have to be aware whether your back is bended or straight in this very second. Trust me, it is harder than you might think. You may need to ask a friend for the first few tries. But the change that this awareness can make in your back pain is absolutely fascinating. This consciousness of your body is one of the most important things in your recovery or prevention.

      Here are a few behavioural tactics that you need to be considering:

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      If you’re leaning forward more than 30 degrees with your upper body, support your spine with your arms.

      Ever tried to show a colleague of yours a complex issue and found yourself awkwardly leaning forward on their desk, pointing with your fingers to his paper? If that ever happens again, make sure you’re using the not-pointing arm to support yourself on the desk.

      Keep a straight back.

      Be it while exercising, stretching or standing. If you’re bending your back you’re putting stress on small areas of your spinal chord. A straight back redistributes the force to a bigger area. You’re minimizing the pressure. Remember this whenever you’re at the gym and reracking your weights, focus on having a neutral spine.

      Put symmetrical loads on your spine.

      I used to play the trumpet when I was a child. The instrument is pretty heavy. The trumpet gets transported in a big, metallic suitcase – with no wheels. Being the nature of suitcases, you only carry it with one arm, on one side of your body. This forced me to constantly lean on the other side with my upper body, while transporting the instrument from A to B. Not really the healthiest activity for your spine as you can imagine.

      If you have to carry heavy objects, carry them with both arms. Put the object in the middle of your body and keep it as close to your mass of gravity as you can. If this is not possible, try to carry the same amount on the left side than you do on the right side. This puts the stress vertically on a fully extended spine. The load is much better bearable for your spine.

      Stay Away From the Back Pain League

      Our world is getting more sedentary. We will continue to develop faster transportation, more comfortable houses and easier lives. While our technological progress definitely has its amazing benefits, it sadly has its downsides too. The danger for back pain will continue to rise on our ever-increasing motionless planet. It’s time to raise awareness.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

      More by this author

      Florian Wüest

      Qualified and experienced fitness trainer and online coach.

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      Last Updated on July 12, 2021

      100 Incredible Life Hacks That Make Life So Much Easier

      100 Incredible Life Hacks That Make Life So Much Easier
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      Want to learn some quick and easy life hacks that are easy to do, low cost and saves you time?

      By tweaking little things in your daily life, it can make your life much more convenient!

      Here’re 100 of the most practical life hacks so you can just pick up any of them right away!

      83 tie a small piece of bright colored fabric

        84 write random letter

          85 use a rubberband

            86 dorm smell bad

              87 lean your phone on your sunglassess

                89 how to waterproof your shoes

                  90 take a picture of the name card

                    91 iron inside out

                      92 old newspaper

                        93 tumble try shoes

                          keep a card like this

                            SONY DSC

                              94 soap bar

                                95 make a hole

                                  96 drop the battery

                                    97 use a coozie

                                      98 when taking a picture

                                        use a clean dust pan

                                          try a pants hanger

                                            use your cellphone light

                                              use a spring from an old pen

                                                quick and easy iphone speaker

                                                  user binder clips

                                                    wrap a wet paper towel around your beverage

                                                      put pancake mix in a ketchup bottle

                                                        clean out an old lotion bottle for your beach

                                                          use a muffin tin to serve condiments at a bbq

                                                            doritos are great for kindling

                                                              use nail polish to identify different keys

                                                                use a hanging shoe rack to store cleaning supplies

                                                                  freeze grapes to chill white wine without

                                                                    use paper clips to organize your cables

                                                                      almost finished your jar of nutella

                                                                        sick of having a box full of tangled

                                                                          unroll the rim to increase the capacity

                                                                            cut open toilet paper rolls and use as a cuff

                                                                              remove the stem from strawberries

                                                                                turn an old bottle into a simple little cord holder

                                                                                  for iced coffee and iced cappuccino, use frozen coffee cubes

                                                                                    how to fold a fitted bed sheet

                                                                                      tired of snoozing past your alarm

                                                                                        place a rubber band around an open paint can to wipe your brush on

                                                                                          ut a wooden spoon across a boiling pot

                                                                                            use bread clips to save flip-flops

                                                                                              take pictures of friends holding items

                                                                                                how i always know which headphone is the left one

                                                                                                  put a stocking over the end of a vacuum

                                                                                                    How to make sure you drink enough water

                                                                                                      user a can opener to open blister

                                                                                                        good sandwich guide

                                                                                                          turn your muffin pans upside down

                                                                                                            50 pounds of groceries and living on the 5th floor

                                                                                                              the right way to make a blt

                                                                                                                add one teaspoon of baking soda

                                                                                                                  38

                                                                                                                    hair straighteners equals to collar irons

                                                                                                                      stack your clothes vertically to see them all

                                                                                                                        the right way to make cookies in the summer

                                                                                                                          how to clean a blender

                                                                                                                            the right way to eat a popsicle

                                                                                                                              use bread clips to label and organize power cords

                                                                                                                                to get the built up residue off of your shower head

                                                                                                                                  user a hair clip to orgainize long wires

                                                                                                                                    a frozen saturated sponge in a bag

                                                                                                                                      rub stuck zipper teeth with a graphite pencil

                                                                                                                                        use a soda pop tab

                                                                                                                                          50

                                                                                                                                            51 How to multiply large numbers in your head.

                                                                                                                                              52 How to open a bottle if you dont have a corkscrew.

                                                                                                                                                rub a walnut on damaged wooden furniture

                                                                                                                                                  kids fall out of bed

                                                                                                                                                    use toothpaste to clear up hazy car

                                                                                                                                                      58

                                                                                                                                                        59 keep pizza out while driving home

                                                                                                                                                          60 put your straw through the tab to keep it from rising

                                                                                                                                                            hold oreos with a fork so your fingers

                                                                                                                                                              Never lose your remotes again

                                                                                                                                                                hiding your emergency money

                                                                                                                                                                  use a bread tab to hold your spot on a roll

                                                                                                                                                                    if you are at a hotel and run out of chargers

                                                                                                                                                                      keep a square of cardboard in a ziplock bag

                                                                                                                                                                        If you need to pee or smoke at a bar

                                                                                                                                                                          drill holes in the bottom of your garbage

                                                                                                                                                                            use an accented letter as your passcode

                                                                                                                                                                              use a squeeze ketchup bottle top with your shopvac

                                                                                                                                                                                do something unusual when locking the door

                                                                                                                                                                                  when heating leftovers space out a circle in the middle

                                                                                                                                                                                    dont burn yourself in those hard to reach candles

                                                                                                                                                                                      put a small amount of water in a glass when you microwave your pizza

                                                                                                                                                                                        75 use a piece of paper to organize

                                                                                                                                                                                          use half a pool noodle

                                                                                                                                                                                            pencil case to store cables

                                                                                                                                                                                              78 clothespin to hold nail

                                                                                                                                                                                                79 make blts

                                                                                                                                                                                                  80 take a picture of your fridge

                                                                                                                                                                                                    81 fill plastic water bottles

                                                                                                                                                                                                      82 right ways to eat chips

                                                                                                                                                                                                        99 if your plug keeps failing

                                                                                                                                                                                                          100 put the banana on the wire

                                                                                                                                                                                                            88 before you throw away a post it

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Source: Reddit LifeProTips

                                                                                                                                                                                                              There you go, 100 awesome life hacks that you can try right now to make your life a lot easier!

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              30 Brilliant Camping Hacks I Wish I Knew Earlier

                                                                                                                                                                                                              20 Popular Life Hacks From the Internet Debunked (or Verified)

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