It’s time we stop taking our backs for granted.
We rely on our backs--and the spine, muscles, bones and tendons that comprise them--to keep us walking, talking and making the movements we need to get around each day. And how do we thank them? With tons of abuse.
Of course, we aren’t treating our backs badly on purpose; the demands of daily life and work put such pressure on us that back pain is now considered one of the main reasons we miss work or visit the doctor. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says that 80 percent of adults have experienced back pain at some point. That’s a huge problem.
Traditional advice for treating back pain is to pop a couple of pain relievers and keep going, but that doesn’t treat the root of the problem--and the pain will come back after the medicine wears off. The good news is that you can fix your back pain by making a few lifestyle tweaks without relying on a prescription.
Stand, Don’t Sit, At Work
Job demands chain millions of people to their desks for eight-plus hours a day. Working diligently at your desk might do wonders for your career--and your wallet--but it’s doing a number on your back. The reason: most people sit in positions that put undue pressure on the spine, leading to compression and pain.
You might not be able to quit your job, but you can make office life a bit less demanding on your back by taking frequent breaks--at least twice an hour--to walk around and stretch. Consider getting a standing desk, too: studies show that standing for at least a part of your work day can greatly eliminate back pain. One study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that using a sit-stand desk reduced pain in participants by 54 percent in four weeks.
Get Balanced With Yoga
Working a yoga session or two into your week is good for your mental clarity and back pain. A 2011 study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington found that yoga helped treat back pain better than other forms of exercise. The researchers concluded that the active stretching and relaxation practiced in yoga classes treats both back pain and the triggers, meaning that it can help relieve pain you already have and, with continued use, help prevent it from happening in the first place.
Don’t know where to start? Most gyms and community centers offer yoga classes, but at-home practice via video workouts found online--many for free--can work just as well.
Switch the Way You Sit
Sitting might not be the best thing for your health, but it’s inevitable sometimes--hey, we need to relax! The problem? Sitting slouched in your desk chair or on the couch is terrible for your posture and spine.
Does that mean we have to sit like we’re balancing a book on top of our heads? No, but there are certain good habits you should get into whenever you’re perched on a chair, like sitting with your lower back supported and with your arms relaxed at a 90 degree angle. The UCLA Spine Center does a great job of explaining the exact steps to follow to keep your back happy and pain-free while you binge-watch your favorite show.
Find Your Core Strength
Back pain doesn’t always mean that there’s something wrong with your spine. Weak or imbalanced abdominal muscles--commonly referred to as the core--can lead to back pain over time because they’re not providing your body with proper support.
Stretching and strengthening your abs (the transversus abdominus, multifidus, diaphragm and pelvic floor) with a core-focused flexibility and resistance program like this one designed by experts at Princeton University can help alleviate that back pain without requiring you to step foot in a gym. Start by completing the easy strengthening program three to four times a week until you don’t feel challenged by them anymore--that’s how you know you’re getting stronger--and then repeat the process with the medium and difficult programs. Add in the flexibility exercises three to four times a week for best results.
Engaging your core throughout the day can help strengthen it, too. The easiest way to do this? Point to your belly button and then lower your finger a couple of inches below it. Pretend like you’re trying to pull your abs toward that point until it feels a little tight. Breathe naturally, but try to keep that feeling for as long as possible.
Dump Your Mattress--and Your Pillow
Goldilocks was onto something when she skipped over Papa Bear’s bed (too hard) and Mama Bear’s bed (too soft) for the perfect comfort of Baby Bear’s mattress. Picking the right mattress is one of the most vital--yet overlooked--ways to prevent and eliminate back pain. The reason: spinal alignment.
Traditional mattresses, no matter if hard or soft, can force your body into a position that doesn’t follow the natural curve of your spine. This means your weight isn’t distributed equally across your body, creating pressure points that can lead to back pain.
Your best bet: Go for a foam-based mattress that contours to your body instead of forcing your body to conform to it. This puts your spine in the right alignment for proper sleep.
At Bear Mattress, we go a step further with our mattress designed with four layers of contouring, Quick-Response and graphite-gel infused foam that increases pressure relief and helps you sleep better and wake up with energy instead of pain. Bear takes pain-relief and back pain seriously. Don't believe us? Just ask the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) where Bear has been listed as an official corporate member.
And don’t forget your pillows! Think of your neck and head as an extension of your spine--you want to make they’re in alignment with your spine, too, but most pillows either crank your head up too high or cause it to drop down. The Bear Pillow eliminates the neck pain that other pillows cause by contouring to your head and natural neck alignment with Loft-X foam, along with mesh and Double Ice fabric that keeps you cool, calm and collected as you snooze.