Why Regular Movement, not Necessarily “Exercise”, Helps Prevent Back Pain

By Mary Williams
Founder, BACKCoach™
President/CEO, Corporate Health Alliance, LLC

If you were to Google “back pain”, you’d likely come across many articles on the subject of exercise and back pain. You would read that exercise is important to prevent and recover from back pain, and learn about specific exercise programs designed to relieve it. You’d also see posts and articles touting that yoga, swimming, tennis, running, and many other forms of exercise are either great or not so great for back pain.

Unfortunately, as with many reports on this topic, reliance on specific exercise programs is misplaced, and it’s important to understand the underlying mechanism and reasoning behind the general concept of the importance of movement for creating and maintaining a healthy back.

The human body is designed to move regularly, with good postural mechanics, in order to maintain a healthy musculoskeletal system. Your muscles need to regularly contract and relax to maintain their health and elasticity, and to be ready when called upon in your regular everyday activities.

Have you ever heard of a person who, for example, bent over to pick something up and their back “went out”? What actually happened is their muscles were not regularly used enough (they were generally inactive), and became inelastic and either lengthened or shortened due to postural imbalance, and also likely chronically contracted due to life stressors. When they bent over, the muscle was ill prepared for the task and responded by vigorously tightening in a protective response. And tight muscles hurt.

If this same person had instead regularly participated in daily physical activity, with good mechanics, and dealt with life’s stressors in a healthy manner, they would be far less likely to experience the pain of their back “going out”.

While exercise programs are great – and so is yoga, swimming, running, gym workouts, golf, etc. – it’s important for us all to move regularly, daily if possible, using good mechanics. A 30-minute walk, 3-5 times a week, can do as much or more than any other preventative approach for reducing your risk of chronic back pain.

In addition, in contrast to surgery, the overprescribed opoids, and other pain medications currently in use, exercise has no negative side effects and many, many benefits, including:
• Improved overall strength
• Improved flexibility
• Improved balance
• Help maintain weight loss and improving body composition
• Improved mood, self-esteem, and energy
• Improved posture if done with balanced mechanics
• Reduced abdominal fat
• Reduced depression
• Improved cardiovascular health
• Improved blood flow to muscles, including back muscles, which increases oxygen and nutrient delivery to tissues and cells while helping to remove waste products

It is important to participate in an activity that you enjoy, because it’s far more important to regularly engage in some form of movement than it is to participate in any specific exercise or program. You’re much likely to regularly exercise, in the long run, if you find something you enjoy.

Ask yourself, what type of physical activity do you enjoy doing the most? What time of day works best for you? Do you prefer to exercise with a partner? A group? Or, do you prefer to exercise alone? Think about the ideal conditions that would most likely lead to the end result of you having movement in your weekly routine on a regular basis.

If you are regularly active during your daily life, that may be enough physical activity for you to prevent back pain, and you can supplement with a daily walk around your neighborhood or another activity when time permits. However, if you sit for most of the day, it is even more important for you to find an activity that you will regularly enjoy so that you can not only receive the benefits of movement, but also counteract the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

And, again, the most important thing to remember is that your body, and your back, need to move regularly, with good mechanics, to both prevent and recover from back pain.

Copyright © 2017 Mary A. Williams, Corporate Health Alliance, LLC/BACKCoach™. All rights reserved.

Stay Back-Healthy this Holiday Season

snow-sled When it comes to the holidays, it can be difficult to keep up with any health-related progress we may have made during the year. However, while our schedules may vary from predictable routines, we can still stay on track – or at least not get too far off track – during the holidays. Allow me to share some simple tips, based on the three primary contributing factors for back pain.

  1. Movement. While getting to the gym or going out for your regular run may be challenging during the holidays, you can still find time for movement by thinking ahead and making a plan. Keep in mind that, while regular exercise is great for your overall health, it is regular movement of any kind that is important for warding off back pain.
  • Try to keep things simple or substitute a more basic routine for your usual one.
  • Consider using some of your family time to take a walk after dinner, or see if any of your family members would like to sign up for a fun run.
  • With a simple yoga mat, you can begin your day with sun salutations or another basic yoga routine.
  • Fit in strength training in 5-10 minutes with some quick lunges, squats and push-ups, or once a day take the stairs rather than the elevator.
  • If you are used to a full exercise schedule, it’s ok to reduce the amount of activity, but be sure to do something active 3-5 times each week.

(more…)

Standing is the New Sitting

man standing at adjustable-height desk

There’s nothing like a catchy slogan to succinctly convey a complex concept, and “Sitting is the New Smoking” has done just that. More meaningful than the original “<Blank> is the New Black”, it’s become evident over years of research that the ease of information creation and flow brought about by technology has come at a cost to our overall health.

Prolonged sitting has been associated with pronounced increases in obesity, metabolic syndrome, and death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Further, early research is showing that even regular exercise does little to counteract the effects of too many hours spent in a chair.

The good news is that there are many ways to make big changes in the amount of time you spend sitting each day, both at work and after hours, leading not only to reducing your health risk, but gaining improvements in creativity, focus, and energy. (more…)

Balance your running form to run for life

Child running with perfect balanced formEighty percent of runners are sidelined with pain or injury each year – eighty percent! In an attempt to explain this phenomenal statistic, some have concluded that humans simply are not designed for running, that there is a fundamental flaw in the human design, or that only the exceptional escape injury. Others don assistive devices such as motion control shoes or orthotics, or do compensatory exercises in an effort to hang in there ‘til the next run, race or goal.

While it is true that there must be a fundamental, systemic flaw when 80% of people become injured doing something as natural as running, the underlying problem is not poor design or a lack of corrective or assistive devices, but a misunderstanding of our bodies’ natural mechanics. (more…)

Healthy Aging Requires a Balanced Posture

Healthy golferNearly all of us began our lives with naturally balanced posture. Yet, along the way, we modeled the posture of others, spent our days inactive and, over time, transformed our beautifully designed musculoskeletal systems into an imbalanced, overworked, and often-painful body framework. If we want to be healthy as we age, learning how to balance our postures and mechanics is essential.

When our bodies are not properly balanced, there are several consequences:

  • Our joints don’t move fluidly, may lose some of their natural range of motion and suffer needless wear and tear because our bones don’t track properly. This can contribute to both a reduction in function as well as pain or debilitating conditions such as osteoarthritis (more…)