One of the greatest health hazards out there may be something you do too much of every day – prolonged sitting. If you have a desk job, this is an issue that may be difficult to get around. Sitting for eight or more hours per day has been linked to a wealth of health issues, including organ damage, muscle degeneration, poor circulation in the legs and even a higher mortality rate. One of the most nagging issues stemming from too much time at a desk or on the couch is lower back pain. Here are some ideas of how to troubleshoot lower back pain and resolve the problem:
You feel stiff and compressed, maybe accompanied by pain down your legs. This may be caused by compression in the lumbar region of the spine. With lengthy sitting, gravity begins to push the vertebrae more closely together, reducing the amount of spinal fluid between each joint. This fluid is what lubricates the vertebra and allows free range of movement in addition to providing nutrients beneficial to spinal health.
To combat such compression, you need to focus on lengthening the spine. Simply hanging from a pullup bar can help to create more space between the vertebrae. Another easy move you can incorporate into your evening routine is to lie down, draw your knees into your chest to form a ball, and rock side to side or in circles (this is also a cheap, do-it-yourself back massage).
There is a “sticking” sensation that limits spinal movement. The lower back isn’t designed for mobility but rather stability – that’s why it has the biggest vertebrae. When there are issues with tightness (or worse, a slipped or herniated disk) in the thoracic spine in the middle of the back, this often translates into lower back pain due to moving more than it should to compensate for thoracic spine problems.
To remedy this issue, you must treat the cause in the middle of the back instead of the effect in the lower back. This requires mobility work, moving the spine in a side-to-side rotation, forward, and backward. You can add exercises like stick twists, forward folds, and glute raises to your workout routine – or give yoga a try, which will cover all three of the spinal movements along with others. Yoga will also stretch the hip flexors that often experience tightness when the lower back compensates for upper back problems.
Your back feels generally weak. While there may be other causes for a weak sensation in your lower back, a common one is a lack of core strength. Prolonged sitting causes those core muscles to disengage, and this removes a lot of the stability for the lumbar spine in the lower back. So, when you do stop sitting and move, your lower back doesn’t have a strong support from the core musculature.
In order to fix weak core muscles, you have to strengthen them. Planks are a go-to exercise that can be modified to any fitness level (go to forearms, drop knees, etc.), and they work both the muscles in the abdominals and the lower back. Start with just 20 seconds at a time and work your way up to a minute or more.
Put it all together. There are two things I highly recommend to help alleviate lower back issues regardless of the cause – yoga and kettlebell swings, which should come as no surprise to my personal training clients. Yoga works to lengthen, increase mobility, and strengthen the support system for the lower spine without much impact to the joints. Kettlebell swings are also low impact and work the entirety of the posterior chain, addressing the culprit of lumbar back pain wherever it resides.
Most importantly, however, you should reduce your sitting time. Take a few moments each hour at work to walk around or stand up and stretch. Exercise ball styled seats for work are also a great idea. Also, when you go home to unwind, make an effort to move a bit during commercials. These are small, easy to implement things that will have a great impact on your spinal health.
Featured Image: stevendepolo