View Full Version : 9 Ways to Banish Back Pain

The Informer
30th April 2011, 09:34 PM
We all want great curves. But did you know the most essential ones are in your spine? Mess with them and hello, back pain. From a weak core to killer high heels, learn the 9 reasons women’s backs ache – and get tricks to keep you pain-free. Plus, check out our slideshow of back-saving exercises and see how bad your back pain really is with our quiz…

The very things that make you feel like a woman spell trouble for your back, such as hormones, pregnancy, raising children and sky-high heels.

Plus, “women bend more than men,” says Esther Gokhale, author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back (Pendo Press). “We’re putting the baby in the crib, leaning over the bathroom sink to apply makeup and bending forward to pick up kids.”

What’s the harm? “Bending incorrectly [from the waist instead of hips] is the No. 1 activity that causes back problems,” Gokhale says.

Doing all these dips while wearing stilettos and carrying a fully loaded purse doesn’t help either.

The back just isn’t built to cope with women’s lifestyles. Putting too much strain on vertebrae can squeeze the shock-absorbing discs between them, causing them to bulge (herniate), pinching the nerves that run through the spine and leaving you bent over with pain.

What’s a woman to do? Find out what’s making your back ache – and how to keep pain away:

1. A weak core.
“People do a bunch of abdominal exercises, but they aren’t really accomplishing anything,” says physical therapist Suzanne Martin, DPT, author of 15-Minute Better Back Workout (DK Adult).

The strength of your core (the section of your body from groin to shoulders) comes not just from your abdominal muscles, but also from stabilizer muscles around your trunk: gluteal muscles in buttocks and hips, the lower trapezius muscle in your back and many other smaller muscles.

To develop your core and support your back, you have to target all these muscles.

“The whole idea behind a strong core is to get many muscles a little bit strong for greater overall strength, instead of a few muscles overly strong,” Martin says.

That means your regular workout of arm weights and the leg press machine isn’t cutting it.

“People often emphasize strengthening prime movers – quadriceps, pectorals, biceps, triceps – and ignore stabilizer muscle strength,” says Justin Lau, certified chiropractic sports practitioner and strength and conditioning specialist.

Instead, do exercises like walking lunges, which engage not only the larger muscles of the legs but also stabilizers in your buttocks, hips, back and abdominals.

2. Monthly flows woes.
That dull, nagging ache you feel leading up to your period? There’s a good reason for it.

“Just before a period, your body secretes relaxin,” Martin says. This hormone relaxes the pelvic joints in preparation for childbirth.

Unfortunately, it has one big drawback: Relaxin affects all the body’s joints – including the ones in your back – making them more flexible.

“If you’re prone to back flare-ups, the week before your period is when it’s most likely to happen,” she says.

So don’t take extra risks with your back those days, she advises. Switch to sensible heels, lighten your loads, and bend carefully and correctly from the hips.

3. Baby’s on board.
A pregnancy weight gain and baby bump throw off your posture and normal center of gravity. The result: a back out of whack.

“Women lose their ability to maintain normal body posture, and the lower back takes on an abnormal amount of weight from the torso,” Lau says.

Relaxin is also a culprit here, because it’s secreted in much higher amounts during pregnancy.

Unfortunately, abdominal exercises like sit-ups and crunches, which help most women build back strength, can’t be done when you’re pregnant, Gokhale says.

You’ll have to rely on your “inner corset” for core stability, she says. This deep abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominis, wraps around your waist just like the old-fashioned undergarment.

When this muscle and your internal and external obliques are strong, they hold your core upright and protect your back – even as baby grows, Gokhale says.

An exercise program emphasizing balanced core strength (check out our slideshow on back exercises) will build this inner corset and keep the back supported.

4. Holding more than your share.
Women carry the weight of their worlds – usually on one side.

“They have heavy handbags, unwieldy children and balance loads on their hips,” Gokhale says.

It’s bad news for your spine, putting it out of alignment and making muscles too tight on one side and too loose on the other.

Hauling uneven loads can also inflame the sciatic nerve, which begins in the lower spine and travels down the back of your thighs and lower leg.

“Resting items on your hips increases tension in your external hip rotators and places pressure on the sciatic nerve,” Lau says.

As anyone with sciatica can tell you, the shooting pain it sends down the legs is crippling and debilitating. It’s well worth whatever it takes to avoid it in the first place.

But you don’t have to stop toting toddlers or those hot hobo bags. Just use core strength and don’t rest heavy items on lopsided hips, Gokhale says.

“Everything we do, whether carrying a purse or child, becomes a way to exercise and strengthen your body,” she says. “If you do it poorly, you put wear and tear on your body. Do it correctly and you become stronger.”

5. Wearing 9-inch heels.
Those killer high heels make your legs look great, but they’re back-busting. The problem: They create tight hamstrings, the large muscle group on the back of your upper legs.

“If women wear heels all the time, hamstrings adapt to a shorter resting length,” Gokhale says.

This makes you tuck in your pelvis and bend poorly, which leads to back pain.

The fix is bad news for stiletto devotees: Switch to shoes with heels under 2 inches, Gokhale says.

6. Menopause is hard on your bones.
It’s bad enough that menopause brings on hot flashes, memory lapses and sleepless nights. The hormonal changes also increase your risk for osteoporosis – and that’s bad for your back.

Dwindling levels of estrogen in menopause accelerate bone loss, leading to osteoporosis. Poor posture and careless bending can also foster thinning of your bones.

Years of bad bone health can create a “dowager’s hump,” an exaggerated curvature of the upper back often seen in older women that results from an osteoporosis-weakened spine collapsing on itself.

The solution? Again, a strong core that supports a naturally curved spine – and a calcium-rich diet.

“Correctly stacked vertebrae prevent calcium from leaching out of the bone and into the bloodstream,” Gokhale says.

7. You’re in a slump.
We spend hours hunched over steering wheels and computer keyboards.
Then what do we do? Work out and bend forward some more.

“Many people sit slumped all day and then go to the gym and do crunch-type abdominal exercises,” Lau says.

All this bending forward hurts the lower (lumbar) spine, which is naturally curved backward, and forces it to move out of its natural curvature.

Working on your posture and developing that core will get you back on track.

8. The dreaded secretary spread.
We work in a sit-down world, especially 9-to-5 types. The position puts excessive pressure on your lower back.

“Sitting, especially in poor posture with a rounded back, reverses the normal lumbar curve,” Lau says. That not only places a lot of strain on your lower back, it also encourages core muscle weakness.

To prevent damage from a sedentary job, avoid slouching in your chair, which tucks the pelvis and strains the lower back.

Also, take regular walk breaks – to the bathroom, break room or up and down stairs for a quick, head-clearing calorie-burner.

If your company allows it, sit on an exercise ball (a 1- to 3-foot-wide air-filled ball used for yoga, weight training and physical therapy) for part of the day. The instability of the ball forces you to engage your core muscles to sit upright, challenging the inner corset and strengthening your back.

9. Standing at attention
Just like sitting all day hurts your back, so does being on your feet.

“Women tend to stand for long periods,” Gokhale says. “We’re cooking, standing in line while shopping and waiting for our children.”

Prolonged standing compresses the spine and aggravates the discs and nerves between your vertebrae. This is especially true when you stand with poor posture – which many of us do, thanks to a weak core and years spent slouching.

Take a much-needed sit break whenever you can and do core-strengthening exercises, specifically working the muscles of your inner corset. Then, when you have to stand around, your back is properly supported.

Source: Lifescript