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If you experience back pain, you’re not alone. In fact, the World Health Organization has identified it as a leading cause of disability worldwide. Statistics show that eight out of 10 people experience back pain at some point in their lives. Whether yours is the result of overtraining, undertraining, or a more serious injury, it can be scary and frustrating to deal with.
Back pain is a whole-person condition which requires whole-person solutions. How you use your body all day, every day has a greater impact on relieving your discomfort than any one, two, or three select exercises.
Adding to core-based solutions
It’s important not to fall into the trap of blaming yourself or your body for “failing you.” Yes, while a strong core (see the moves in this sequence for guidance) is helpful for improving your posture and helping to stabilize your spine, core strengthening is not the end-all-be-all to moving beyond back pain. Because we are all unique, there is no one set of yoga postures or exercises that will be ideal for all situations.
Instead of focusing entirely on building core strength or stretching the discomfort away, try to identify and eliminate everyday behaviors that aggravate your back. As you do this, begin cultivating better thinking, eating, resting, breathing, and moving habits as you move throughout your day.
Here are 10 lifestyle changes you can make now to ease your back pain—once and for all:
Pay attention to back discomfort
Pain is your body’s cry for help. You don’t want to jump to conclusions and catastrophize, but you also don’t want to “push through” the pain. Instead, use all your yoga awareness tools. Take time out to breathe as you listen closely to what your body is trying to tell you. This is an important first step, because tuning in and understanding where you are on the spectrum of pain will provide you with important information about which tools are best suited to bring effective relief.
Eat well and hydrate frequently
Being overweight and dehydrated are not helping your back! Avoiding inflammatory foods will help you maintain a healthy body weight. Incorporating foods that fight inflammation into your meal plan, such as berries, walnuts, and leafy greens, can help hydrate all of the structures that keep your spine healthy. These foods will also help flush out inflammation, speed healing, and improve your mood. So will staying hydrated. The Mayo Clinic recommends consuming the following:
- About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men.
- About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women.
For goodness sake, quit smoking! Smoking reduces blood flow to injured areas, increases your risk of osteoporosis, slows healing, and leads to a plethora of completely avoidable health issues, such as heart disease and breathing problems.
Set up your workspace so you’re ergonomically positioned. This will lessen gravity’s effects on your discs and joints and reduce stress on your body.
Get up and move
Your body is mostly made up of fluids. To avoid stagnation, inflammation, and disease, you need to move often. Note how many hours per day you are sitting. Set a goal to replace those sedentary habits with more active ones over time.
Write out a list of any and all activities you can do with limited discomfort. Then do a little more of those each day. For example, you could take short walking and yoga breaks throughout the day.
Practice good spine hygiene
Learn how to improve your body mechanics for lifting, carrying, and performing everyday activities. You may not even be aware of how you’re getting in and out of your car, emptying the dishwasher, or picking up your kids. Even so, all of these daily movements can add up to either be spine-strengthening or spine-stressing activities. Take your time and move mindfully. The awareness your yoga practice brings to your body and how you move is extremely helpful here.
Use props in yoga—and in life
Use props for additional ease and support when sitting, sleeping, and practicing yoga. Check that you’re adequately supported in your work chair by rolling up a hand towel for lumbar (low back) support.
Sleeping on your abdomen is the most stressful sleep position for your neck and spine. If you decide to retrain yourself to sleep on your back or side, strategically placed pillows can help relieve spine strain while using a lavender-flax eye pillow will also help you fall sleep with ease.
Choose your shoes carefully
Normal foot function allows for natural gait which is good for your back. So be sure to choose comfortable, flat shoes, with a spacious toe box.
Both too much stretching and too much strenuous training can aggravate back pain. Over-stretching can result in muscle, ligament, or tendon damage, while over-training can result in your tissues not having enough time to recover. Connect with a knowledgeable back expert to create a safe program that will keep your spine strong and supple.
Dinneen Viggiano, E-RYT, YACEP, NKT, CST, CHHC, CNC, empowers students to retrain back pain using a holistic approach: mindset, nutrition, breathing, posture, therapeutic self-massage, and functional rehab exercises. An experienced therapeutic movement & back pain specialist with 20 years of experience, Dinneen is a Backfit Pro, a Tune Up Fitness senior teacher trainer, a NeuroKinetic therapist, a CranioSacral therapist, Anatomy and Injury Management Teacher, an Orthopedic Functional Exercise Specialist, and a Certified Nutrition Counselor. A true “teachers’ teacher,” Dinneen has been traveling the globe since 2010 teaching professional trainings worldwide. She currently lives in Harlem, New York City, with her husband, her teenage son, and their two rescue cats. Find her at retrainbackpain.com or on Instagram: @retrainbackpain.