Ugggghh, back pain… Your spine is the supporting column around which your body is built. So when it’s causing you grief, you can bet you’re going to know about it. Problem is, there are so many muscles that support and move your spine that often you won’t actually know what’s causing that discomfort. These four repeat offenders are a good place to start.
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Got a weird crick in the back of your neck and shoulder? Chances are, it’s the trapezius, or traps, which starts in your neck and reaches down into the back of your shoulder. Whether you’re permanently locked into the downward-peering position of the typical cellphone user or sitting unpretty at your desk, these are the muscles being overworked.
“For every inch [2.5 centimetres] that your head is slouched in a forward position, you are adding four kilograms of weight to your head,” says chiropractor Dr Paul Palmer. Essentially, those muscles are taking strain all day, every day, while other smaller and also important muscles are neglected. “Playing tug of war with gravity is a rough job because gravity never runs out of energy, but the muscles do,” he says. Ouch.
Your move: Give those muscles a break every few hours and release tension by gently bending your neck forwards until your chin touches your chest and by doing a neck extensor exercise: Lie on your back, knees bent, with a thinnish book under your head so your neck is relaxed. Tuck your chin in towards your chest, then press your head into the book, trying to elongate the neck. Hold for a few seconds, then release.
Sitting all day affects pretty much every part of your back, but the lower back is where it gets scary. “It can cause a weakened spine, making you more susceptible to slipping a disc,” says Pilates instructor Terry Goodman. If you’re in pain after a long day, your core and glute muscles are likely weak, since your back does all the work in keeping you upright.
Your move: Do core and glute-strengthening moves that won’t strain your lower back, like glute bridges and cat/cow stretches.
Your mom was right, jammer. Slouching around does more than just make you look like an old crone. “Bad posture also has negative physiological effects and may lead to poor digestion and an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases,” says exercise physiologist Tayla Faulmann. It could also be the root of your crappy sleep, fatigue and even a bad mood. Sheesh.
Your move: Back extensions can help strengthen the spine, so you stand taller. But be sure to tuck your chin: “This helps empower sitting and standing posture and also helps with lifting,” says Palmer.
Your exercise form
Yip. If you’re lifting any kind of weight, even your loaded gym bag, you could injure your back if your form isn’t in tip-top shape. “People don’t bend their knees or push evenly throughout,” says Goodman about mistakes she sees most often. If you’re not moving through those areas, the load of the weight goes straight to your back, creating a one-way ticket to injury town. Not fun.
Your move: “Being lazy and not pinning your scapulae [shoulder blades] back will give you a weak back,” says Faulmann. Use a mirror to check your form and make sure you always engage your core – that includes your butt.