The way I see it, humans never adjusted well in the transition from quadrupeds to bipeds. I doubt our four-legged ancestors had anywhere near the ratio of lower back pain we moderns endure.
It’s a mystery how millions of years of evolution has left with bodies that are, to put it mildly, far from perfect. It’s true that the 4 or 5 lowest vertebrae (called S1 to S4 or S5) fused into one bone, a downward facing triangle, to help support the enormous shift in weight as we moved our torsos, shoulders and heads upright over the pelvis. It’s also true that this slight accommodation has proved inadequate for many, especially those with long spines, rounded upper backs, or significant upper body mass stacked on a narrow pelvis (that’s you, all men out there!). Ladies, I hate to say it, but pregnancy tips the torso dangerously forward, often leading to temporary or lifetime back problems. Add to that, vaginal births often permanently rearrange the pelvis (to make room to let the little one out!), which can also translate up into achy lower backs.
The result of this evolutionary glitch? Way too many people, old and young, suffer back pain. Sharp, shooting pains from impinged nerves or dull aches from muscles trying way too hard to perform work they were never designed to do. All to often this pain is extreme enough to mess with daily activities. I read somewhere that lower back pain is one of the leading causes of missed days at work.
The good news? A lot of these problems could be prevented (and sometimes undone) by avoiding a few stupid moves. Here’s a list of a few things you should stop doing today if you want to steer clear of the ER, prescription painkillers, and surgery:
- Never lift something heavy by bending over with your knees locked straight and your spine rounded. Bend your knees, and lift with a “straight” back. If you can’t lift it, don’t.
- Don’t sit in “bucket” seats, especially while driving (for more on this, see my Youtube video “Yoga for Driving”). Go for a horizontal seat and vertical backrest. Ditto your desk chair, dining chair, and couches. Avoid sitting on those stability balls that force you to grip your hip flexors in the front, which can pull on your lower back.
- Don’t sit in (don’t buy) squishy chairs or couches. (see #2 above). If you’re back is in acute pain, don’t sit at all. Stand, lie down, or better yet, walk around. Keeping the muscles around the lower back, especially glutes, hamstrings, ITB (outer thigh), psoas (hip flexor at front hip crease), and front of thighs warm and more elastic through movement will reduce pressure on lower back.
- Don’t pop up to sit from lying on your back in bed or savasana (always roll to one side and use your hands to press up).
- Don’t roll up to stand “vertebra by vertebra” in yoga class. (Bend your knees, press your hands onto your thighs, and come up with a straight spine.)
- Don’t round your spine (pulling your knees toward your chest) right after a deep backbend. Do a twist instead.
Lois Nesbitt, a New York-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer, travels the globe offering teacher trainings, injury courses, workshops, and retreats. In June 2017 Flying Masters will host her second visit to Melbourne, where she will offer an injury course and 2 weekend workshops on yoga for special populations. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.loisnesbittyoga.com.