Most people at some time will experience back pain and sadly most of them will continue to be affected by ongoing back pain, discomfort or a fear and apprehension of a reoccurrence of pain. In most occasions such pains can be attributed to lifestyle originated problems like sitting too much, poor posture and just a lack of physical exercise leading to imbalances of muscular activation and use, tension and relaxation.
Sitting Is The New Smoking, is a phrase you will read with growing incidence as evidence builds for the health issues associated with prolonged sitting.
The bigger concerns are the impact on cardiovascular health but increasingly as a trainer of movement and strength, I am seeing more and more clients with lower back pains brought on predominantly from prolonged sitting.
Presuming a client with a history of pain has had the all clear to exercise from an allied health professional, what should the course of action be? Lifting? Pushing? Pulling? Ab Curling? Sitting on a machine to lift, push, pull and curl??
Probably not to be honest and sincerely professional.
The first item on a trainers agenda, for a client experiencing pain from a lifestyle orientated problem, should be helping the client move with more competency, comfort and awareness of what the body is doing and in particular the vestibular system or in plain language, balance and coordination.
Now, before we all start thinking of heading down to the gym to do move some weights around, this may be rather too ambitious as it creates a focus on an external object, like the weight, not the individual.
Perhaps it would be a wiser or a more practical solution to choose a simplification like just moving without gym equipment, from walking, walking uphills, stepping up steps, walking through the countryside with obstacles to encounter.
For some however, even walking elicits pain and discomfort due to ongoing poor posture developed by the prolonged sitting and yes, perhaps other factors too.
To start to correct the posture imbalances it’s important firstly to understand what is physically wrong with sitting that causes the problem.
Problem 1. When we sit for periods of time, muscles at the front of our hips can shorten and become tight pulling our pelvis forward creating an extended lumbar arch or lordosis or what some call a Donald Duck bottom – it sticks out!
Longer term this over-tight hip muscle and pelvic repositioning causes other muscles to take on unnatural tension and others to be switched off, especially the deeper core muscles of the abdominal wall who provide anterior support from the pelvis to the rib cage.
Problem 2. The bottom isn’t actually meant to be a load bearing muscle! Odd as that reads, it isn’t. Look at the palm of your hand and the sole of your feet. They have that hard fatty padding, a denser feel to touch and tougher skin… because they are meant to take loads, get it?
Our bottoms don’t have this kind of structure and largely this sizeable muscle is designed for locomotion, pelvic support and stability and physical, muscular activities like lifting.
Sitting for lengthy periods actually squashes all those layers of backside muscle, in turn desensitising the nerves within. The result is what leading spine specialist, Dr Stuart McGill labels as ‘gluteal amnesia’; in other words the brains nerve signalling to activate the gluts don’t happen or happen very poorly. The trip switch has been knocked off due to the sitting and compression of the backside muscles.
Why is this a problem?
When you eventually stand and require the bottom to move the legs affectively they are not fully able to and other local muscles take on the referral, become overworked and in turn become fatigued, over-tight and potentially injured. Don’t forget too those deeper core muscles who are now also not able to support the pelvis to rib region including the lower back… Oh dear, can we see and injury time-bomb!
How to do we fix this?
There are many solutions that a trainer could investigate or refer on (to a physiotherapist) if hindering pain is present. But, where pain isn’t hindering and you see a poor lower back posture aka Donald Duck Bum, we’ll start with those tight hip flexors need loosened up a bit.
In the two pictures below you see the set up, a half kneeling position with the pelvis tucked under (pulling the groin up towards the navel).
The second picture illustrates pushing the hips forward just enough to bring on some tension at the front of the hips and top of the thighs. This should be held without pain anywhere for up to 10 seconds before swapping legs.
Ideally this should be carried out 3 times a day after a little bit of moving around.
If pain persists, see the Dr or preferably a physiotherapist.
Secondly, let’s try to switch on those gluts whilst correcting the pelvic position.
The first picture demonstrates the poor posture, the Donald Duck posture.
The second picture illustrates the standing ‘Tuck and Squeeze’ of the pelvis and gluts. This drill should be carried out any chance you get without getting odd looks from observers – or perhaps they should be encouraged to join in!
These two drills above should be carried daily out to get the ball rolling but are by no means enough.
After mastering the postural re correction of the Tuck and Squeeze and stretching the hip flexors for a week or so, it’s time to work on strengthening the gluts and the deeper transverse abdominals muscles of the core.
This is where the help of a movement system based strength coach comes in helpful.
In the FitStrong Gym exercises such as bracing our stomachs, ‘rolling’ from our backs to our fronts using just our torso and minimal limb use are all excellent activities to enable our brain to directly communicate with our body as a global unit to just move naturally. Hey, if you don’t believe me and think I am mad, hit the floor and try to roll from your back to front 5 times… right now – do it!…
Here’s author of Original Strength, Tim Anderson demonstrating a great warm up including these rolls.
…Okay, hope you did that and I hope you feel all that stuff going on all around your body – that my friend is exercise at its simplest and purest.
As Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert describe in their Original Strength book :
“We have lost our way. We have lost our foundation. Our sedentary lifestyles have robbed us of the foundation and the joy of movement that we built as children. Because of this, we have lost our strength, our health, our resiliency and our vitality.”
A healthy movement program designed to reclaim our natural design looks no further than at how children, especially toddlers move.
Rolling and crawling as silly as it seems is a great ‘ctrl, alt, del’ to reset our bodies before we start to load ourselves with weights, Kettlebells and barbells.
If you are stuck behind a desk for most of the week and are keen to learn how to reclaim your younger, more mobile, pain free and happier self, get in touch soon, in fact, get off your backside now and schedule an appointment.
FitStrong Performance Training
Tel: 0450 487 237
Low Back Disorders: Evidence-based Prevention and Rehabilitation, By Stuart McGill
Original Strength, by Tim Anderson & Geoff Neupert