How You Sit, Stand, Drive, and Sleep Makes You Hurt or Heal

back rights and wrongsNEWClick here to see a PDF of this chart you can download!
Although sitting puts more pressure on your back than standing does, it’s easy to get in the habit of poor sitting posture. Unfortunately, slouching in a chair or on the sofa for too long can put strain on the muscles and ligaments in your back as they become overstretched. You can help prevent many back pain problems and spare yourself some pain by practicing good sitting posture.

How Most People Develop Muscular Back Pain
Muscle tension is often the cause of back pain. Sitting, especially for extended periods of time, causes muscles to get tired and stiff. The sitting position can also interfere with blood circulation in the lower body allowing less oxygen to get to nerve and muscle cells in the back. You are at higher risk for low back pain if you have bad posture, don’t exercise and are overweight. When muscular back pain occurs, heat and exercise can increase blood and oxygen to the area. Exercise can also help you to improve your posture. Try to distribute your weight evenly when seated and avoid slouching in your chair.

Upper back pain is a common problem caused by poor sitting posture. To prevent putting excessive strain on the muscles of your upper back, keep your back straight with your shoulders relaxed against the back of the chair. Since sitting involves holding your body upright against gravity, you want to sit in a position that puts the least strain on the muscles supporting the spine. Place a small pillow behind your lower back to maintain the natural curve of your spine. Your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees turned slightly at a right angle. Keeping your back and neck in line with your pelvis gives your head support.

Herniated Disc
A herniated disc is a common cause of back pain, particularly if the disc was recently injured. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains that sitting can worsen low back pain as it increases the pressure in an area that is already weakened. Whether pain is dull or sharp, it’s important to get up, stretch and move around at least once every hour. Learning how to maintain proper posture while sitting, standing and lifting can help prevent future back problems.

Pinched Back Nerve
Although most people suffer back pain at some point, poor sitting and standing postures can cause immediate or long-term back problems. A sedentary lifestyle puts pressure on the nerve tissue of spinal bones, and can eventually cause pain. However, maintaining good sitting posture can prevent excess pressure on the spinal cord nerves, which can cause pinched nerve pain. A herniated disc in the lower spine can put pressure on a nerve root causing pain, numbness or tingling sensation.

The Yoga Solution to Back Pain
Many people spend long periods of time sitting each day, which can wreak havoc on the back. Especially if you tend to slouch, your posture suffers — the mid-back muscles become overly lax, and the chest and hip flexors tighten. “Just by doing a yoga practice you can improve your body mechanics, your postural stabilization and your flexibility,” says Atlanta-based physical therapist David Mesnick. If you have chronic low-back pain, practicing yoga can be a viable treatment option to reduce pain and increase mobility, according to a study published in the journal Spine in September 2009. Researchers found that participants who engaged in biweekly yoga classes designed for lower-back pain for 24 weeks exhibited “statistically significant” reductions in functional disability and pain intensity compared with a control group receiving standard medical care.

Flexibility, Strength, Stability and Mobility
Improving the health of your back with yoga isn’t just about becoming more flexible, it also means developing strength, stability and mobility — the ability of your joints to move through their full range of motion. Generally speaking, what we need for backs is greater mobility in the hips and greater stability in the lumbar spine. I recommend a combination of forward folds, backbends and twists to build mobility and flexibility of the spine and standing poses to build strength and improve lumbar stabilization.  I also begin each client that trains with me personally with a lumbar stabilization program because this is the foundation of all the future major work we will accomplish.

Why Sun Salutations are Important
Many yoga classes begin with a few rounds of sun salutation, which is a series of poses meant to help warm up the muscles for the subsequent poses. Each of the poses built into sun salutation has a specific effect on the spine. For example, you begin in forward fold, which brings the spine into flexion — rounding the spine forward — and in upward-facing dog, you extend the spine, coming into a slight backbend. Downward-facing dog also brings the spine into mild flexion. In chaturnanga (essentially a lowered pushup), you’re contracting your core, which targets the muscles that stabilize your spine. Even if you only did repetitions of sun salutation as your practice, you’d be getting an effective therapeutic workout for your back.  Click here for a great Sun Salutation Flow for everyday.

Why Backbends Help Counteract Sitting All Day  Last week we began our classes on backbends.  These are very beneficial to the back but they also are beneficial to improving moods, including depression and anxiety so typical of the holiday season.  And if you are spending time at a desk — even more so with online shopping and communciations this holiday season – the problems exasperate.  Prolonged sitting means your hip flexors are shortened and your back is often rounded. It can be a major cause of postural imbalance and back pain, so including backbends in your practice is crucial. Not only do backbends put your body into a position opposite of what it’s used to, but backbends also help lengthen the hip flexors, open the chest and strengthen the back muscles, when done correctly. Cobra and supported bridge pose are good postures to open and stretch the front side of the body, including the abdominals and hip flexors, while postures such as bridge pose, bow pose and locust pose help build strength throughout the back and in the hips.

do-stability-ball-backbendYou can do a lot to benefit your back by working while sitting on a stability ball that is large enough to accomodate you, meaning while seated your hips are above your knees.  There are also a variety of exercises you can do on the ball I’ve developed with a program called, Big Ball Bounce.  This is a combination of bouncing moves while you contract your core as well as arm and leg movements.  Not only does it provide cardio and strengthen the core, it tones the legs (especially the area above the knees that is difficult to tone up as you age), strengthens them to, helps your agility with the footwork, strengthens the arms with various movements as can be greate for anyone who needs low impact exercise.  It’s a fun break to take while working at a desk to improve circulation too.   Another great stretch to do over the ball is a backbend.  We are doing a variety of backbends in yoga again this week.  These range from a restorative bridge pose to reclined fish to chest expansion bridges and full wheel (backbend).  Join me and see by emailing me to attend.  The first class is just $15!  Here’s a picture of backbend over the ball. A great way to stretch your spine and it even improves mood as does any backbend!

Why Forward Folds Are So BeneficialDSC01076
Forward folding helps create length in the spine, separating the vertebrae to relieve compression. Forward folds, such as the standing forward bend and the seated forward bend, keep the spine strong and flexible while helping to relieve tension in the back. However, it’s crucial not to overdo it in these postures. Prolonged sitting causes many people to have tight hamstrings, which can make forward-bending postures challenging. Pushing too hard in forward folds can lead to injury and overstretching of the low back. When forward folding, focus on bending at the hip creases rather that rounding the spine ; engage the quadriceps muscles on the fronts of the thighs to encourage the muscles on the backs of the thighs — the hamstrings — to open.

Nicole TriangleThe Use of Side Bends to Stretch In Ways We Don’t
Along with forward folds and backward bending, lateral flexion of the spine — or side bending — is also an important part of a yoga sequence for the back. Side bending helps stretch and strengthen the oblique muscles along the sides of the body, further adding to the overall flexibility and stability of the back.  The quadratus lumborum muscle, which is found deep in the back of the waist, is one of the most important muscles stretched in a side bend. This muscle often becomes tight and contracted during long periods of sitting. Just as with forward folds and back bends, it’s important not to collapse into the pose; focus on lengthening through each side of the body to create a long spine.

Jackie KoldGain Mobility With Spinal Twists
Twisting poses come in all varieties — seated, standing and even inverted — and they’re an integral part of a well-rounded yoga practice. In addition to improving digestion and promoting the health of your internal organs, they also help promote full range of motion in the spine, something many people lose living a sedentary lifestyle. Twisting poses, including seated twists, revolved triangle pose and half-moon pose, increase range of motion in the shoulders, hips and spine and lengthen the soft tissues surrounding those joints that become shortened with lack of movement. For optimal back health, I recommend practicing a spinal-twist pose once or twice daily.

Create Stability With Standing Poses

Jackie teaching an Eagle Arms variation with a lunge at her boot camp.

Jackie teaching an Eagle Arms variation with a lunge at her boot camp.

Although standing poses probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think of the best yoga poses for the back, they’re important for building strength and a solid foundation for the spine. These include postures like triangle, eagle and extended side-angle poses. In these poses, you’re rooting through the legs and using your deep core muscles to stabilize the spine. The key in these poses is to focus on creating that solid foundation and focus on engaging the muscles around the spine and through the hips and legs.

Jackie with student foreground teaching Puppy Cat to Mommy and Me Group

Jackie with student foreground teaching Puppy Cat to Mommy and Me Group

Other Beneficial Poses
Some poses can’t be classified as forward bends, back bends, twists or standing postures, and some aren’t even traditional postures, but they’re still highly beneficial to include in your healthy-back yoga practice. Puppy-cat or cat-cow posture, which is performed on all fours and involves rounding and arching your spine, helps warm up the spine and increases range of motion.

 

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My absolute favorite pose, which isn’t taught nearly enough in yoga classes, is just a basic squat. It’s a basic human movement that corrects a lot of our postural imbalances if done properly promotes full range of motion in the hips and stabilization in the spine. This is why I use the squat assessment at the beginning of each new personal training program. I can determine in roughly 10 squats where clients have or are developing issues in their bodies and how to help them correct them by their performance. Yoga is one way through chair pose Utkatasana that we can work on form, including how to lengthen the muscles of the back and strengthen the core.

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