There may be rest and good times in store for the festive season, but possibly also hours of driving, cooking, entertaining, tidying and decorating the house. We all take the required sitting, bending, twisting and lifting movements for granted … until our back starts to hurt. This blog is a reminder of how to keep your back safe, so you can prevent a relapse during the holiday season, or simply look after you back well. The good back-care habits described below demonstrate safer ways of moving while doing daily tasks. My guess is that you know this already, but the difficulty is to actually change the familiar ways of doing things and embrace the special care your back deserves. So I hope this is a useful reminder.
When your back muscles are painful or tight, there are many movements that can put added strain on the spine and back muscles. Forward bending and twisting movements can be tricky for some, and a combination of the two is a definite no when you have back pain. I explain this to my new students, but immediately after a session I see unconscious habits creeping in as they bend down to pick up their bag and put shoes on. Putting the advice into action, i.e. slowing down and becoming aware of how you do move, is the first step. After a few weeks of greater vigilance, the new ways of picking things off the floor and filling the dishwasher have developed into new and better habits. While we can’t avoid certain movements in daily life, it’s very good to know how to perform them in a safer way.
Good back-care habits for the festive season:
How to lower the body to the floor
Until you have back pain, you’re probably not aware how many times you lower your body to the floor. We pick things up, stroke a dog, tie our shoes, clean the floor, fill the dishwasher or washing machine, take something out of a low cabinet, feed the dog, and the list goes on and on. It’s very important to do this in a way that is safe for your lower back, using the legs instead of bending forward with a rounded back. Especially coming up from this position can be strenuous for the lower back. Squatting with a straight back is a useful alternative and has the added bonus of strengthening the legs. To learn more about squatting, please read this previous blog.
Another way to lower your body to the floor is to take a step forward and place the back knee down, while keeping the upper body upright. This may also be helpful if one knee is painful.
Finally, if your knees prevent you from squatting or going down on one knee, bend both knees a lot while bending forward. This would not be a good position to lift from, but it would be fine to pick something off the floor. Make sure you stay centred, bending both knees equally and without twisting the trunk.
As bending forward is one of the hazardous movements for the lower back, we have to use the strength in the legs to lift. This means lowering your body to the floor by squatting or by bringing one knee down. The aim is to keep your back upright. Bring the item close to the body and keep the back upright as you come up, using the strength of your legs.
Cooking sometimes involves bending forward over the oven, and lifting a heavy pot. This slight forward bend is taxing for the lower back. If you place one foot on a low stool or a pile of (sturdy) books, your weight will partially be on the higher foot as you lean forward. This may spare you from overworking your lower back.
With acute back pain, reaching up to a high cupboard or to the highest branch of a Christmas tree with only one arm, may cause a sudden increase in pain. If you need to reach something, try doing this with both arms at the same time, so the spine lengthens evenly on both sides.
Sitting and driving
One of the worst things you can do for your back is slouching. I have discussed slouching more at length in this blog, and driving in this previous writing. To recap: avoid rounding your spine for long periods of time. The muscles become weak and the intervertebral discs are squeezed along the front of the spine. This weakens your back and endangers the vertebrae and intervertebral discs. Instead, keep you back in a neutral position, siting on the centre of the sitting bones, supporting the lumbar area and stacking the shoulders over the centre of the hips.
For a more comprehensive Keep-Your-Back-Safe at Home Guide, subscribe to my blogs and it will be emailed to you for free! And of course, if you would like to know how yoga therapy can help your back or general health, do book your free consultation here: https://beneyoga.co.uk/book-a-free-consultation-call/.
Last but not least of the good back care habits: Rest
When your back is fragile or painful, occasional breaks can speed up the recovery or at least reduce the pain. Lying down on the back with your legs bent — or straight if that feels better — is very important to heal your back. In a different relation to gravity, the muscles can relax and tightness gets a chance to release. Leave a yoga mat in a corner with some props, such as a cushion for the head, a bolster and blanket. Especially if your day is busy or stressful, lie down to rest your back and observe your breathing. This will not only soothe your back but help you feel calmer too.
I wish you all a lovely festive time and end of the year. May your back feel free and all your movements easy in 2024!