This week I started a new, part-time, desk-based job after 9 months away from that environment. And doesn’t my back know it…
After just two days of sitting for most of the day at the desk and using a computer, my back and shoulders really stiffened up. And that’s even with sitting with awareness and endeavouring to maintain a good posture!
It really brought home to me the importance of consciously moving your body, every day.
The miraculous spine
The spine is a wonderful, even miraculous, feat of engineering.
If you stop and think about it, bending forward and straightening up is a really complex movement we (mostly) accomplish with relatively little effort.
The spine and its muscles are doing most of the work of moving the majority of your body weight gracefully forward stopping gravity pulling your over and hitting your head on the floor, and then working against gravity to bring you back to upright, with the minimum of effort and support.
But what the spine is not designed so well for, is sitting down all day.
Are you sitting comfortably?
And in particular, it’s not designed for sitting slumped over a computer or desk. The classic position you see office workers in – rounded shoulders, head poked forward, shoulders tensed up to somewhere around their ears – is so bad for the back!
As soon as you lose the natural ‘S’ shape curves of the spine, muscle balance is lost, strain is put on different areas of the spine and our core stability muscles (the lower abdominal muscles and lower back muscles) switch off.
According to the NHS, lower back pain is something many of us experience during our lives, and the majority of cases are caused by poor posture or incorrect lifting (see Back Pain).
There’s also been research carried out which suggests that sitting for long periods every day is bad for your health and can even make you ill .
So, what can you do about it?
For your back’s sake, get moving!
A health spine = a healthy you!
And there are two key factors in maintaining a healthy spine: good posture and exercise.
The posture we maintain while standing, walking, sitting, lifting / carrying / moving heavy objects, driving etc. throughout our lives affects the health of our spine. We should aim to maintain the natural curves of the spine at all times.
Regular exercise which moves the spine in all four planes (backwards, forwards, sideways and twisting) is good for mobility and disc nutrition and will counterbalance all the sitting we tend to do.
- Bending forward maintains flexibility and segmental mobility.
- Backward bending stretches out back joints, lubricating them and promotes better circulation through spine. It also decompresses the spine and counteracts the daily sitting and bending we do. Generally, this is a movement we don’t do enough of!
- Rotation (twisting) helps to maintain health and mobility of spinal discs and joints.
- Lateral (bending to the side) movements help to maintain spinal flexibility.
- Squatting elongates the spine and opens up the back part of the spinal discs. It also relieves compression of the lumbar (lower) spine.
Yoga can help back pain by focusing on improving posture, moving the body in a balanced way, taking the spine through all four planes of movement improving core stability, and strengthening and stretching muscles.
It also encourages greater body awareness to helping to become more familiar with your own body and how it moves.
Therapeutic yoga postures for the spine
There are many, many yoga postures and sequences which can improve posture and help prevent, or alleviate, lower back problems and pain. Here are just a few!
- Mountain pose: great for correcting postural alignment.
- Cat: improves awareness and mobility of the spine
- Sphinx: counteracts the forward slump we get from sitting down
- Forward bends, such as standing or sitting forward bend: lengthen spinal muscles and relieves tightness in the lower back
- Crocodile: decompresses the spine, relieves lower back pain
- Camel: frees tension in upper back
Don’t forget to move
So if you find yourself in a situation where you’re sitting for prolonged periods – don’t forget to move!
You could stand up and have a stretch, go for a brief walk, twist your upper body around to each side a few times as you sit in your chair, or roll your shoulders a few times.
Focus on maintaining good posture and keep breathing deeply.
And remember, the human body is designed to move!