According to the National Institutes of Health, low back pain costs Americans at least $50 billion each year. It is a leading cause of missed work and the most common work-related disability. Conventional treatment for back pain includes bed rest, ice, exercise, medications, spinal manipulation, and surgery. Alternative treatments for back pain include acupuncture, yoga and various forms of somatic education.
Some of the causes of back pain, according to the NIH, are trauma to the back, stress, poor posture, aging, and degenerative conditions such as arthritis. Let’s look at one of these causes – poor posture.
The Problem with “Good Posture”
Why is back pain such a huge problem in the US today? We’ve all been taught how to have “good posture”, and almost invariably the instructions are “tuck the pelvis, suck the stomach in, lift the chest, shoulders back”. Does this actually work?
If you have tried this (which most of us have!), you might have noticed that it requires constant muscular holding and tension. Also, it does not actually straighten the spine, but rather, makes it curvier. It leads to fatigue, followed by slouching the moment we forget to “sit or stand up straight”. It’s a never-ending cycle!
A Different Approach
Noelle Perez-Christiaens from Paris, France, and Jean Couch from Palo Alto have done decades of research on populations without back pain. These people stay active into their old age and do not end up hunched over as we do in the US. This healthy posture is found in numerous less-industrialized parts of the world. It is also found in all children under the age of 3, in all countries. It existed in the US through the 1920’s, when posture began to change as the “flappers” became popular.
These healthy people have several characteristics in common, such as:
1) They have a tiny arch at the base of the spine, between the sacrum (S1) and lumbar 5 (L5). This is the deepest indentation in the spine, and the spine is fairly straight above this “natural arch”.
2) All the support bones of the body (spine, pelvis and legs) are lined up on a vertical axis, which you could see if you held a “plumb line” next to their body (like a carpenter uses to find a true vertical line). They are aligned with gravity, not fighting it.
3) They are always in maximum relaxation and do not overly tense their muscles. Most surprisingly, they don’t hold in their bellies!
When you align yourself like this, in “Balance”, you can eliminate pain, lengthen your spine, prevent future painful incidents and find comfort even in airplane seats! Try an experiment right now to help you find more comfort sitting:
1) Pick a chair with a flat surface, with a fairly straight back that leans backward at a slight angle.
2) Stand in front of the chair and bend at your hip crease, letting your sitz bones (ischial tuberosities) move way back. (Don’t bend past 90 degrees.)
3) Aim the front of your pelvis towards the chair (We call this the “fig leaf area” – as in where Adam and Eve might place a fig leaf), and sit down.
4) Now lean against the chair back. You should feel your sitz bones underneath you. Resist the tendency to slide forward.
5) Let your belly relax.
6) Let your back relax by dropping your chest. Don’t “sit up”; sit DOWN. This is a rest. There’s no need to work at it.
7) Let your thighs relax and place your ankles underneath your knees. Your feet point in the same direction as your thighs.
8) Draw each shoulder back and down separately, and then relax the shoulders.
9) Draw your chin in and stretch the back of your neck briefly, then relax and let your face come to a vertical position.
10) Don’t worry about holding any position. It’s all about placing the bones in alignment, and then relaxing. In “Balance” we don’t “hold” any particular position. Just let the chair and your bones support you.
To get more instruction and practice in pain-free sitting, come to a 2-hour Balance Method workshop. To learn this and more about sitting (including computer sitting, sitting in airplanes & cars), as well as standing, bending, walking, and sleeping, take the Balance Your Body Foundations Program. For exact dates, visit http://www.sonomabodybalance.com/html/courses.html.