Prevent Back Pain in 3 Easy Steps


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30% of Americans complain of low back pain at some point in their lives, and for many of us, low back issues are a chronic condition. I suffered with low back pain after giving birth to Anna for almost two years, and it impacted not only my exercise choices but also my work and even my sleep.

I’ve thought women in other parts of the world are able do such backbreaking physical labor and yet not suffer from back pain due to better genetics. As usual, though, it turns out that it’s more about how you move your body than your DNA.

Esther Gokhale, an acupuncturist who enjoys 200 new consultations to her California clinic daily, learned how to treat back pain by studying indigenous populations the world over. People would carry heavy loads for long distances, sit on the ground all day sorting foods or bend over repetitively, and yet didn’t complain of aching backs. 

In trying to figure out what they have in common, she determined that the primary similarity is the shape of their spines – a shape that is markedly different from American spines. Looking at spines in profile, ones that don’t provide pain are shaped more like a J, most American spines mimic an S.

Esther Gokhale describes these spines as elegant, similar to the spines seen in Greek statues or young children. In her book and in her clinic, she trains people how to avoid or treat back pain with a few simple changes to posture, that you can practice mindfully all day long to correct the bad habits  you may have developed and burn more calories:

1. Roll your shoulders
When you walk, your thumbs should point forward, rather than the backs of your hands. To achieve this, push your shoulder up, pull them back and let them fall.

2. Lengthen your spine
Without arching your back, take a deep inhalation and grow tall. Keep that height as you breathe out. Maintain that new height as you exhale.

3. Squeeze your upper glutes
Squeeze your upper bum muscles every time they take a step. You’ll get a nice curve as a result too.

Avoid these common mistakes:

1. Don’t push your chin up.
You’ll exaggerate the curve of your cervical spine, and promote neck trouble. It’ll also make your eyes look smaller.

2. Don’t arch your back
Arching your back is an easy shortcut to a longer spine, but it’ll exaggerate the natural curve in the lumbar spine and increase pressure on the disks. Roll your shoulders and lengthen in inhalation instead.

3. Avoid unhealthy processed foods

Excess weight strains the lower back and abdominal core muscles. Maintain or achieve an ideal body weight with a plant-based diet and healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Mary is practicing a J-shaped spine while she searches for a new NYC home this week.

Posted on by Mary Clifton, MD


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