Monday, December 12, 2011

Low Back Pain Relief Part 1: Sitting

One of the most common complaints I hear from new clients is "I have pain in my lower back". This isn't surprising to me when I observe how they sit with their tails sheepishly tucked under, perched right on top of their butt cheeks. I mean it makes sense, those butt cheeks do make for a nice little cushion. Unfortunately this is disastrous for your back because it puts pressure on the discs, causing pain and discomfort. It also disrupts proper breathing, creates dysfunction in the shoulders and promotes laxity and weakness in the abs.

Since our bodies don't come with an owners manual, we tend to defer to it's agenda, which is to exert the least amount of effort as possible. This is actually pretty efficient in the short term, as it conserves energy, however, it is often deleterious in the long term. Hence back pain.

So here we go- learning how to sit. It may seem silly, but most of us have never actually learned how to do this properly. As usual, I am going to try and break this down into as few steps as possible. The sixth step is is for extra credit, and focuses on breathing.

1. Find your SIT Bones and create a Triangular Base
  • Stand up
  • Lift your arms up over head
  • Arch your back
  • Stick your butt out
  • Keeping your butt sticking out, sit back down
You should feel two prominent bones underneath of you (meet your SIT bones- you are supposed to sit on them), your butt cheeks should be behind you (after all, that is why it is called your "behind"). Your SIT bones and your perineum should make a triangle, with even pressure on all three points. OK, so this is a good start. we have a wide, stable base to perch on.

2. Find your Pelvic Bowl and keep it from spilling
  • Place your hands on your hips
  • Notice that your pelvis makes a cylindrical shape (meet your Pelvic Bowl)
  • Notice that when you sit on your SIT Bones, your Pelvic Bowl is upright, and if it were full to the brim with water, no water would leak out from the front or back of the bowl (because you aren't tipping the bowl)
 3. Find your spine
  • Your spine should have the feeling that is extending up out of the center of your pelvic bowl
  • Your low back should be gently (not forcefully) arcing forward (picture the front of a bow and arrow) 
 4. Balance the Pelvic Bowl and the Bowl of the Ribcage
  • The ribcage is also a cylindrical shape and can be thought of as the ribcage bowl. In this case, the bowl of the ribcage should be stacked over the bowl of the pelvis. It's a balancing act, similar to building blocks or stacking rocks. 

 5. Create an HOURGLASS!
  • WITHOUT changing the shape of the spine
  • Pull the front of the belly in and up (you can actually lift your belly button up)
  • Pull the sides of the waist in toward the spine (think- away from the shirt)
  • Gently hug the back muscles in and up toward the spine
  • At this point you should feel like an HOURGLASS- wide base, wide top, narrow middle that hugs in on all sides


6. You get Brownie Points for BREATHING
  • Imagine that you can put a stopper in the middle of the hour glass
  • Now pull the breath into the top of the hourglass only
  • Feel the bowl of the ribcage fill out on all sides- front to back and side to side
  • Feel the belly being strong and supportive, don't lose the stopper, we don't want to fill the belly- only the ribcage.
  • This strengthens the ABS and the back, relieving tension in the shoulders, neck and ribs.
Bonus tools:
  • Take some colored tape and use it to place three small X's on the base of your chair that form a triangle, this is where your sits bones and perineum should be. This will remind you to sit on your triangular base every time you sit down.
  • Print out an image of an hourglass and keep it taped to your monitor, reminding you to sit up properly.

7 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Is there any stretches that can help to prevent lower and upper back pain? Could you please help me?

    Best regards,
    Rachel
    downtown seattle chiropractor

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  3. Hi Rachel

    I'm not a big fan of static "stretching" as I believe it puts the muscles in a compromised position, and that the benefit is very temporary. Another danger of stretching muscles that are sore is that sometimes the muscles that are sore aren't really "tight", sometimes they are over stretched or "functionally weak". In order for a muscle to hold it's length, the opposing muscles must have proper strength. So as you can now see there is a delicate balance in muscle tension relationships. In order to achieve this balance a mindful exercise program that addresses both groups, respectively lengthening and strengthening simultaneously is needed.

    My advice would be to find a good Pilates instructor in your area, and get in for some regular sessions. If your upper and lower back are both bothering you it sounds like you most likely have some postural alignment issues. A good Pilates instructor will be able to cue you into proper alignment and reinforce it with strengthening. After awhile your back pain should ease and eventually go away.

    Best of luck!

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  4. Thanks fir such a wonderful article. Low back pain is debilitating, distracts our attention and is the number two cause for missed work.
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