I don’t know how many of my patients come in with constant lower back pain to some degree. They’ve tried muscle relaxants, stretching, heating pads, but somehow it always returns. There isn’t anything really wrong with their backs. They didn’t injure themselves in any way, haven’t been over-exercising, or doing heavy house or outdoor work, haven’t been lifting any heavy objects or moving furniture. Yet, they have chronic lower back pain and want to know how they can prevent back pain naturally.
Well, 9 times out of 10, the answer is so simple they never thought of it. Their posture! That’s right, poor posture is the most common cause of lower back pain! Here’s why and some recommendations of what you can do about it.
Why Poor Posture Makes Your Back Hurt
Many of my patients work at desk jobs, or they spend a lot of time sitting while working on their computers, or standing for long periods during the day. That’s why it’s so important for them to observe good posture, both sitting and standing to keep their spine and neck in alignment. Often these structures fall out of alignment from slouching forward in a kind of seated shrimp position, or with shoulders rolled forward while standing. As a result, lower back and neck pain starts to crop up as well as pinched nerves and muscle spasms.
Correct posture keeps all parts of your body supported and balanced. My patients often don’t realize how poor their posture is until I suggest doing a little experiment with me. As they stand and I try to hang a straight plumb line from their earlobes, through their shoulders, hips, and knees, down to their ankles. Very often I cannot form a straight line, as their shoulders may be sloped forward, their backs rounded and their stomachs pouched out. This posture puts strain on the lower back as well as weakens abdominal muscles, making that pouch stick out even more!
Also, people who sit at desks most the day, sit on chairs that do not support their weight correctly and all the weight of the body falls unevenly across the lower back. Especially when they move forward near the edge of the seat where they’ve lost the support of the chair for their lower back.
One solution to both posture and ergonomics problems is to get an ergonomic office chair that keeps the body weight supported correctly and encourages correct posture. Additionally, many people sit shifting between 1-2 positions for several hours at a time! This in and of itself can lead to stiffness and soreness in the lower back muscles and spine. Getting up at least every hour or so to stretch out back and spine muscles, walk around, and get your circulation moving again.
Observe Good Body Ergonomics
To keep your back and neck from straining, good body ergonomics can help. They include the following:
- Don’t continually carry something heavy on one side of the body. A good example of this are people carrying young children usually on one hip – they sway their lower back out to the side in such a way to support the weight of the child sitting on their hip and wind up straining the muscles of the lower back. Also, women carrying heavy purses, or men carrying heavy back packs, on one side all the time – the weight acts like traction pulling that side of their body out of alignment. No wonder their backs hurt!
- Don’t wear high heeled shoes or jeans that are too tight. I see this in young women all the time wearing heels that are sometimes 5-6” high with tight jeans! It cantilevers their entire body forward, throwing the lower back out of alignment, in a stance much like a flamingo. I don’t know how they walk on these stilts day after day but it can create some serious lower back pain.
- Too high or too low positions of your head can cause abnormal extensions of the neck. This puts strain on your entire spine causing pain in the neck or in your lower back.
- Stand with weight on the balls of your feet, not the heels, your feet slightly apart, letting your arms hang normally at your sides. Don’t lock your knees and keep your head in alignment with your body, not jutting forward. If your posture is good, you should be able to stand with your shoulders and hips, as well as the back of your head, touching the wall. If not, your head is too far forward and throwing your spine out of alignment.
Other Things That Help Lower Back Pain
Often times muscle tension can lead to poor posture resulting in lower back pain. Here are some suggestions to avoid/relieve muscle tension, and back pain, from developing.
- Relieve muscle tension by taking stretching breaks throughout the day, especially if you’ve been driving for a long time, or sitting working on a complicated problem.
- Get adequate physical exercise, 30-40 minutes, 4-5 times a week, doing aerobic exercise like dance, yoga, bicycling, swimming, using an elliptical trainer, can relieve tension and keep muscles strong and better able to support you without pain.
- Massage. Nothing feels as good as a complete body massage when you have muscle tension and/or pain in your back or anywhere for that matter.
- While sleeping, place a body pillow or regular pillow between your legs to take the pressure off your lower back and keep it aligned.
Bad posture can aggravate lower back pain and become a real pain in the neck. As I advise my patients, wearing sensible height shoes and using good body ergonomics are simple fixes that can go a long way in preventing lower back pain.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.