By Larry Espinoza
Todays Machining World Archives May 2008 Volume 04 Issue 05
If you’re still among the living, you’re building a back. The question is, are you building a strong back or a bad back? Check how you’re sitting right now. Odds are you’re either slouching or leaning forward. In either case, your lower back is probably curved forward in the shape of the letter “C.”
If you work at a desk, it’s possible your body is hunched forward, intent on the task at hand. Your lower spine may be rounded and bent in a forward direction for eight hours a day. When you sit back in your chair, you tend to slouch with your back in that C shape. When you stand, chances are you are bent forward. This C shape is the position most of us adopt throughout the day. It’s an open invitation to a bad back.
When you spend your day bent forward, the muscles and ligaments supporting your spine grow and adapt to whatever posture you hold them in most. If you hold your back bent forward, certain ligaments will become shorter, while others will become overstretched and elongated. The ligaments of your back won’t be used to being forced in the opposite direction. When you call on them to stretch beyond the limits to which they’ve adapted, they tear – and you have an injury. The first time may be minor. But as it heals back to your normal forward hunch position a small scar forms on what once was a healthy – if short – ligament. This scar is now stiffer than the once pliable ligament you were born with. Scar tissue shrinks over time, further shortening the ligament. Returning to your usual forward slouching position makes it more of an effort to stand up straight. When you really overstretch this shortened, stiff, scarred ligament, the tear becomes a major injury.
After a few days you may be able to return to normal activities, but you also return to your habit of bending in that C shape. This injury, when it heals, leaves you stiffer and more scarred. You may re-injure your back when you attempt to pick up anything heavy. You have literally built yourself a bad back!
There is no question that there are many causes of lower back pain and numerous factors that contribute to a bad back. It’s natural to blame the most recent (or the most severe) injury for all our troubles. The truth is it’s what we did before and/or after “the big one” that really put us over the top. So what do you do now? You’ve unknowingly spent years building a bad back. Simple: Rebuild your back. You must begin taking steps to reverse the process. The only solution to a bad back (or neck) is to strengthen and recondition those same muscles, discs and ligaments.
The first order of business is to be aware! When we stand, we have a dominant leg which bears the brunt of our body weight. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed on both legs when standing, and on both “cheeks” when sitting. Next, anytime you burn a CD, stop at a red light or watch a commercial, suck your belly button into your spine without holding your breath, preferably while talking. Lastly, move! Walk up the stairs; take a walk on your break. The more movement in your life decreases the chance of building a bad back.
At home on the road, try these simple exercises. A carpeted floor or thin exercise mat works best. Distribute your weight evenly on your hands and knees. In this quadraped position, make a table out of your back – your spine, hips, shoulders and head should all be level. Suck you belly button into your spine without rounding your back. You should feel a stretch or tug in your low back.
While keeping your hips level, slowly slide your right leg back as far as it can go without lifting your knee – pause – then raise a straight right leg and foot. You want to keep both your hips and shoulders level. Alternate legs and repeat five to ten times. You’ll feel the muscles of your low spine and shoulders working hard to keep you level.
Simple movements, simple exercises – a simple conscious effort during the course of the day – all add up to building a better back.