When thinking about health, the first thing that comes to mind is nutrition and exercise – often in the context of weight loss. We choose to eat one thing over another because it has fewer calories and go to the gym to look better. Health is, of course, about so much more. While the focus is often on feeling great right now, there is so much that should be done to prevent pain and injury in the future.
With more people than ever before working a desk job (either from home or the office), poor posture and chronic back pain are serious health risks. Though once only an aging adult problem, even those in their twenties are experiencing stiffness and discomfort. These mild symptoms are likely to develop into severe chronic pain in the future. Thankfully, there are several ways you can improve your posture and reduce back pain right now.
Stretch throughout the day
Do you spend most of your day at a desk or staring at a computer screen? If so, it’s likely affecting your posture and may even be causing neck and back pain. Often, simple stretches are all that is needed to fix these symptoms. If you are employed in a sedentary job, try to take at least three to five breaks throughout the day to stretch. Here are a few you can give a try right now:
- Roll your shoulders back and forwards in a shrugging motion.
- Press your shoulder blades together (as though you are trying to crush something between them).
- Looking forward, tilt your left ear towards your left shoulder until you feel a stretch along the right side of your neck. Repeat on the right side.
- Tilt your chin towards your chest, then tilt it up towards the ceiling.
Repeat each of these stretches for between thirty seconds and one minute, for a total of only two to four minutes per set. If you repeat this routine three to five times each day, it adds up to no more than twenty minutes total, so you can rest assured that you’re not losing out on productivity.
Ditch the heels
You knew that heels could give you bunions, but did you know that they can also affect your posture? Wearing heels disrupts your body’s center of gravity, thereby changing your spine’s alignment to enable you to balance on the tips of your toes. This disruption has a detrimental effect on your posture. The occasional outing with heels won’t make a difference, but regularly wearing heels can result in permanent changes to the alignment of your spine if you’re not careful.
If you really can’t live without your heels, consider swapping those stilettos for a kitten heel. They may not make quite as much of a statement, but when you’re living pain-free in the future, you’ll thank yourself.
Do strength training to build muscle
After failing to stretch, the next most common cause of back pain and poor posture is inadequate muscle support. Though strength training is often pursued for aesthetic reasons and to achieve personal fitness goals, strong muscles are also crucial for supporting your bones.
To improve spine support, you’ll want to concentrate on strength training exercises that target your upper and lower back. Some of the best no-equipment back exercises include:
- Tricep half-pushup: lying on your stomach, place your palms next to your shoulders. With your elbows tracking backward, push yourself up, stopping before your elbows straighten. Lower yourself back down and repeat.
- Swimmers: while still on your stomach, reach your arms forward. Lift the top of your thighs and your chest off the ground. Move your arms and legs as though you are swimming.
- Bridges: start by lying on your back with your arms at your sides. Bend your legs and plant your feet firmly on the ground beneath your knees. Push your pelvis up so that there’s a straight line from your hips to your shoulders. Lower your hips back down until your lower back is pressing into the ground, or keep your hips raised and lower only halfway before coming back up.
In addition to back exercises, you’ll also need to work on your core strength. Yes, really! Your spine relies on support not just from your back but also from your hips and abdominal muscles. Building a strong core takes time, but by practicing a little each day, you’ll get there in no time. Some of the best exercises you can do include:
- Roll-ups: lying on your back with your legs straight and your arms above you, slowly peel your spine off the mat until you’re in a seated position. Slowly lower yourself back down, and repeat.
- Russian twists: sit in an upright position with your legs bent and the soles of your feet on the floor. Clasp your hands together and point your elbows towards the walls on either side of you. Without moving your arms, twist to bring one elbow down to the floor next to your hip. Get as close to the ground as you can (maybe even touching it!). Come back to the center and repeat on the other side.
The benefits of yoga are virtually endless, a few of which include improving your strength, flexibility, balance, and mental health. Practicing yoga has been shown to reduce back pain and improve posture. Child’s pose, cat-cow, camel pose, cobra, and grasshopper are just a few great moves for improving your posture.
One of the best things about yoga is that you don’t need much space and can do it almost anywhere – without any equipment. While mats and blocks make some of the positions easier, they’re not essential. If you’re not able to join classes in person, follow lessons on YouTube for free, or look for local online classes.
Modify your sleeping environment
Experiencing back and neck pain at night can make it difficult to fall asleep and result in you starting your day off with pain. Fortunately, you can make changes to your sleeping arrangement and routine to improve your sleep cycle and reduce pain.
The type and quality of the mattress make a significant impact. While firmer mattresses are generally better for supporting your spine, there is such a thing as too firm – don’t automatically assume that the firmest mattress is the best choice. Generally, mattresses that are between medium and firm are the safest choice. It’s also a good idea to look for a brand or company that allows returns; while that mattress may have felt perfect in the showroom, a few nights’ sleep might tell a different story.
Now that you’ve found that perfect mattress, you’ll need a pillow to go with it. Again, it is essential to do your research and buy a pillow that is right for your sleeping position; pillows for front sleepers and side sleepers are very different. You’ll want to make sure this is returnable, too. Don’t settle for a product that isn’t entirely right for you.
Having good posture isn’t just important during the day, but the night too. If you’re a stomach sleeper, try sleeping on your back or side instead. While this is hard to do when you’re unconscious, make an effort to change it if you can. If you’ve accepted that you’re a stomach sleeper for life, try putting a pillow underneath your stomach to reduce strain on your lower back.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods and take supplements
Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help with chronic pain. Saturated fats, refined sugar and carbohydrates, and MSG are a few ingredients most likely to cause inflammation. These are often found in processed foods, so the best thing you can do is steer clear of junk food as much as possible.
One of the best diets to follow is the Meditteranean diet, which includes berries, dark leafy green vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, and nuts. Following a strict diet full of foods you hate isn’t sustainable. Look for anti-inflammatory foods that you enjoy and try to incorporate them into your meals. Balance is key.
It’s important to note that everyone is different. While changing your diet can help with any pain you’re experiencing, pinpointing which foods are a problem and which are healing takes time. Do your research, and don’t expect drastic results overnight.
Evidence of the benefits of taking collagen is increasing. Hydrolyzed collagen may improve joint pain, prevent bone loss, and increase muscle mass. It’s worth trying, but do your research before picking a brand. Studies have shown that many collagen powders contain heavy metals. Go with a collagen brand that tests for these metals to ensure you’re receiving all benefits and no risks.
See a doctor
If you’ve tried all of the above and are still experiencing significant pain, it might be time to make an appointment with your doctor. Sometimes back pain and posture indicate health conditions and disorders, such as scoliosis, that need medical intervention to treat effectively. Most spine disorders cannot be prevented or reversed with exercise and lifestyle changes, but physical therapy can help manage symptoms. For extreme cases, services like the Southwest Scoliosis Institute can offer surgery or other therapy-intensive treatment plans.
While back pain might seem like an unavoidable reality of 21st-century life, it doesn’t have to be. By trying even just one of the tips above, you’re likely to see a noticeable difference. Best of all, most are low-cost solutions, if not free. Do you struggle with poor posture and back pain? Leave a comment below.