How could such a small package cause so much damage? It’s the question I kept asking myself as I was driving to the orthopedic surgeon early one morning. Nicholas was only 4 months old, but my arms and hands felt like he was 50 pounds.
The pain had started 10 years before Nick was born, after I had fallen off my bike and tore my rotator cuff in my left shoulder. Years of rehab and it still bothered me on occasion. After Nick was born was one of those occasions.
In order to protect my left shoulder I started picking him up with the majority of his weight on my right hand. This placed an abnormal amount of stress on tendon that ran along my right thumb.
It all culminated with a right hand/thumb that didn’t work and a frozen left shoulder. Taking care of my 4 month old baby was a real challenge. After a couple months of rehab for my torn rotator cuff and DeQuervain’s Tendonitis in my right hand, I was finally able to get through my daily activities without crying out in pain.
But I hadn’t learned my lesson yet.
In 2010 I broke my right kneecap, causing me to turn my right foot outward when I walked to reduce the pain. When I slept my right knee was bent and turned outward to reduce the pain.
By changing the way I used my body – AGAIN! – I caused another problem. One year later I couldn’t walk without crying. Within 2 days my lower back had enough of tight muscles and tendons. The pain was excruciating.
I think I’ve finally learned my lesson – and it’s backed up by research and years of chiropractic practice.
Lesson: When you change the way your body was intended to be used you increase your risk of injury.
If you have one leg shorter than the other, you increase your risk of hip and back injuries. If you have a knee replacement and favor that knee, over time it increases your risk of lower back and hip injuries. If your muscles in your lower back become tight, it changes the way you use your back and increase your risk of injury.
Through working with an amazing chiropractor to relearn how to walk correctly, I’ve been pain free for 3 years. The exercises I’m going to tell you about here are to help you prevent back pain and back injury. If you currently suffer from pain that isn’t relieved quickly using these simple exercises then it’s time to see a professional.
HOWEVER . . . .
Be very careful! Many orthopedic surgeons want nothing more than to give you pain medication and hope the issue disappears. If it doesn’t – then you’ll be facing surgery and more pain medication. Unfortunately, this may lead to an addiction to pain medication and years of heartache and pain.
Back to the exercises.
These may seem simple, but simple may be all you need to stretch your muscles, walk correctly and reduce your risk of back pain.
This isn’t exactly an exercise, but after sitting correctly for 5 minutes you might disagree! When I was working in a rehab office, the majority of our patients came in with upper back pain from sitting in a slouched position. In fact, many Americans also walk this way. If you can learn to sit correctly, over time you can translate it to walking more upright as well.
Sitting with your shoulders forward will stretch the muscles in your upper back, tighten the ones in your chest and over stretch your lower back. Instead, sit with your feet flat to the floor, knees at 90 degrees, hips at 90 degrees, shoulders back and a slight curve to your lower back.
Sit like that anytime you sit down. At first your muscles may get tired and you’ll find yourself slouching. Each time you catch yourself leaning forward, sit back and sit straight.
Sitting all day, even in the correct position, is hard on your muscles. Your body was designed to MOVE, move, move. Research also demonstrates that if you sit for 8 hours a day you negate all the benefits you may have received from working out.
Get up every twenty minutes and do one or two of the following three exercises. It will help to relieve the tension in your muscles, improve your heart health and keep you pain free longer.
When you’re standing it’s important you do it correctly! Practice standing with your toes up, feet straight and body weight shifted to your heels. Too often we stand on our toes, body weight forward and more stress on the lower back. Relax your back and buttocks while engaging your lower abs to control your balance. Keep your shoulder blades back and down.
THREE: Walk Backwards
Although it sounds counterintuitive, walking backwards will actually help you to learn to walk forward correctly. This is because in order to walk backwards you HAVE to think about what you’re doing.
You’ve been walking since you were just a baby. Over the years it’s become second nature. Unfortunately, those movements you regard as second nature may be done incorrectly. By learning to walk backward you must think about what you’re doing and will relearn how to walk with better posture.
Walking backward will also activate and strengthen the muscles that run along your spine.
Stand straight, shoulders back. Imagine there’s a string from your head to the ceiling. Tuck your pelvis forward. Move your left leg and right arm back, swing your right arm forward and left arm back as you move your right leg back. Essentially you are swinging your arms in the same cadence as you would if you were walking forward.
Do this for just three or four steps, every 20 minutes. The objective is to do it brief and frequently. It shouldn’t time in your day, but it should be done three times every hour.
FOUR: Morning Activation
This easy morning exercise with stimulate the muscles in your back to improve your posture. You may also find relief using this exercise throughout the day after sitting. Use a firm, flat surface and lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat to the floor.
Keep your knees together and drop them to one side, rotating at your waist. While in this position, tighten one buttock to bring your hips back and up toward your spine, while taking the opposite shoulder and rotating the arm so the palm is facing up. Pull your shoulder blade back down toward the spine and hold for 15 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
FIVE: Gentle Back Stretches
These are my all-time favorites. They are quick, easy and incredibly powerful.
Stand straight as described above. Turn your right foot out and rotate your head, shoulders and body from the waist to the left. Return to the start position and repeat on the left side with your left foot rotated away from your body and turning your body to the right.
Next, turn your right foot toward your left foot, rotating your leg from the hip inward. Turn your body to the right, or toward the rotated leg. Return to the start position and repeat on the left side.
These exercises don’t take much time or effort, but they do require consistency and persistence. Like anything else in life in which you desire success – you have to remember to do the work!