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Posture Improvement Is The Cure For Chronic Back Pain

Feb 15, 2008
Back Pain Statistics from the National Institute of Health:

1. Thirty one million Americans have low back pain at any given time.

2. Ninety percent of back problems are due to poor posture. It is the number one cause.

3. Back pain is the second most common cause of work days missed due to illness.

4. Back pain is the most common disability in the United States.

5. The cost that back pain has is estimated to be a staggering fifty billion dollars yearly.

The number one cause of back and neck pain is not overdoing it with a sport, workout or household chore but rather poor standing or sitting posture.

The spine consists of twenty-four interlocking bones called vertebrae. Stacked one upon another, these small bones support the weight of the body. Each vertebra contains four little joints with pain-sensitive linings. Between the vertebrae are circular pads, called disks, composed of a soft jelly enclosed in a tough, fibrous shell. The disks separate the bones and cushion the impact of walking, running, and moving. They're the spine's shock absorbers. In a healthy back the disks are plump and thick.

Inside this column of bones is the spinal cord, a thick bundle of nerves. Smaller nerves pass between the vertebrae and branch out to the rest of the body.

The spine has three slight curves, in the neck (the cervical curve), upper back (thoracic curve), and lower back (lumbar curve). These curves absorb shock and give the spine flexibility, while keeping the column balanced over the center of gravity. When the spine curves just the right amount, the vertebrae are stacked up properly. They glide against each other without friction. When the curves are too exaggerated, however, the spinal joints no longer fit together properly and thus press into one another. The joint linings can become irritated and inflamed. Also, because the space between the vertebrae is narrowed when the spinal curves are too great, the nerves that pass between them don't have enough room and become pressed upon and pinched, causing anything from a dull ache to throbbing, searing pain.

If the joints no longer fit together well, then the muscles surrounding those joints have to contract and tighten in an effort to keep further damage from occurring. The tighter the muscles become, the more the joint surfaces are squashed together, resulting in, you guessed it, even more wear and tear, more pain and discomfort.

You'll know if your spinal curves are too exaggerated if, from a side view, your head hangs too far forward from your shoulders, or your upper back is too curved or your shoulders round forward or your lower back has too much sway.

When you improve your posture, you take tremendous stress and strain off of bones, muscles and joints.

What is good posture?

Your spine and joints are in good alignment, when, from a side view:

* Your ear, should, hip, knee and ankle are in a straight line.

* Your head is directly on top of your shoulders.

* Your upper back is fairly straight, not slouched.

* Your shoulder blades are lying flat against your back.

* Your shoulders are straight and relaxed.

* Your pelvic is in a neutral position, meaning the little bony protrusions toward the top of the pelvic bones line up vertically with your pubic bone.

* Your knees are unlocked.

Try Posture, Get It Straight!'s One Minute To Better Posture Technique. It will have you standing straighter instantly.

1. Stand with your fee hip-width apart. Your knees should be soft and neutral, not locked.

2. Pull in your abdominal muscles as if you're zipping up a tight pair of pants. Think of pulling your belly button toward your back. Don't hold your breath.

3. Lift the front of your rib cage up as if there were a string connected from your breastbone to the ceiling, pulling you up. Try to elongate your midsection by pulling the bottom of your rib cage away from your hip bones.

4. Pull your shoulder blades back, towards your spine and then press them down, as if you wanted to tuck them into your back pockets.

5. Keep the position for a few moments, trying to relax into it and breathing normally. Then shake yourself a bit, walk around the room for a few minutes, and go through the steps again.

Correct Seated Posture

You may think that sitting is easier on your back than standing, but the truth is, when you sit, there is 40% more pressure on the disks in the small of your back. Sitting too long and improperly can be the cause of much back distress.

When you sit, you want to maintain the natural curves of your spine. You are sitting correctly when:

* Your ear, shoulder, and hip are in a straight line.

* Your head is centered over your shoulders, not dropped forward.

* Your rib cage is lifted.

* Your arms are supported by armrests. This takes 25% of the pressure off the lower back.

* Your bottom is against the back of the chair. Your lower back is not bowing out behind you.

* Your thighs are fully supported by the chair seat - meaning your knees don't extend beyond the chair seat more than several inches.

* Your feet are flat on the floor or a stool.
About the Author
Janice Novak has a Master's Degree in Health & Physical Education and is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker and wellness consultant. Her program improves health, decreases sick days and improves productivity, alertness, energy and motivation. Visit Improve Your Posture
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