More is better when it comes to alleviating lower
back pain - more exercise, that is. Although many people who
suffer from back pain don't exercise, fearing it will
exacerbate the problem, a recent study found that exercising
four days a week gave people greater relief from back pain
than working out fewer times a week or not at all. Fitness
expert Gary Dawkins offers some tips.
Lower back pain is a major health concern for many people,
but there is some good news.
• Exercise programme: flexibility and strength
A lot of it can be prevented or resolved with little effort.
This could mean changing habits, starting a specific exercise
and stretching programme, or simply purchasing a new office
Lower back pain can cause injuries to other areas of the
body, so it is important to do something about it.
There are so many pain receptors in the back that the
smallest of abnormalities will cause pain.
• Pains in the back
1. Poor seating posture at the
Lower back pain can begin with poor posture at the work
station. This is the result of sitting in a position that is
out of the body's "normal" anatomical position.
Often the chair is set up to do the work that our abdominal
muscles should be doing.
The lower back is in a constant position of flexion and is
totally supported by the chair, allowing supporting lower
abdominal muscles to relax, so for most of the day the body
can be lazy and the muscles don't have to work in synergy.
2. Poor standing posture:
We see it all the time - shoulders dropped forward and
rounded. The result is a posture out of the "normal"
anatomical position, placing too much force on the lower
The correct anatomical position is when your ears, shoulders
and tail bone are all aligned.
Try standing or sitting up straight in this position. It will
probably feel strange because most of us do not stand or sit
The back has too much load placed on it. Being overweight
places excessive strain on the lower back because of the
difficulties in assuming normal posture.
4. Chemical irritation:
Chemicals, such as smoke, entering the body can initiate
lower back pain.
5. Psychological factors:
Excess stress and being overtired can initiate lower back
6. Mechanical abnormalities:
Poor hamstring (back of the upper leg) and gluteus strength
and poor hip flexor (front thigh) flexibility.
• What can you do to alleviate lower back
pain? If you have lower back pain that is not a
result of a direct injury:
• Visit an osteopath to find the cause of the pain.
• Find comfortable seating positions.
• Reduce the pain by reducing the inflammation.
• Do only gentle activity until you know the cause.
• Be active only in pain-free ranges of motion.
• If walking uphill or on stairs is painful, simply keep
yourself isolated from those activities.
• Do not remain bed-ridden as this will only aggravate the
• Wear comfortable footware.
• If you have poor posture then use the flexibility and
mid-region strengthening programme on this page to start
• If you are overweight, start the
10-week Body and Soul exercise programme.
• If you can't touch your toes while standing up then start
flexibility programme. You most probably have very tight
muscles throughout your lower body.
• It may just be that you store lots of stress as a result of
a lack of sleep or the pressures of daily life - if this is
the case then take a close look at your lifestyle and make
the appropriate changes.
• A light exercise programme will work two-fold - it will
relieve your stress and also help loosen up tight muscles and
joints which is often all that is required to help relieve
chronic lower back pain.
• Once pain has been eliminated, it is important to continue
with a long-term maintenance programme to prevent recurrence.
• Helping to prevent lower back
• Complete a regular flexibility and strengthening programme
aimed at loosening up the hamstring and hip flex muscles as
well as being aimed at strengthening the hamstring and trunk
• Keep active, as this frees the joints and keeps them
• Maintain a healthy body weight.
• Don't smoke.
• Maintain a correct posture when sitting and when standing.
This may mean purchasing a chair that allows you to keep a
• A Swiss ball can be a great seat as it ensures you activate
your abdominal muscles to keep your back straight. This also
means standing and walking tall with your shoulders back.
• Get enough sleep and relieve stress through regular
• Always use your back correctly. This means use your legs to
take the majority of the weight when lifting and bend through
your knees and hip.
• When driving in the car or sitting at work, try to get into
a habit of contracting (tensing) your lower abdominals at
about 25%. To do this, imagine you are attempting to do a
belt up one more notch. For example, at the traffic lights do
this until the lights turn green.
• Gary Dawkins is personal trainer and director
of Creative Conditioning in Dunedin.