Mindful Alignment puts your whole person in a state where you are ready to learn from what you read. Before reading about the three core skills that can relieve back pain and keep it from recurring, do this mindfulness meditation. If you would prefer to watch the video with the contents of this blog and learn how to use these three core skills using The Be Well Now Method™️ click here.
Below you will find a bonus video where I share the common mistakes made when exercising that could be contributing to recurrent back pain.
The spine is designed to be strong, stable, and flexible, but it needs 3 foundational skills for living in modern-day life. Recurrent back pain flare-ups are a sign the foundation is missing. By developing three foundational skills, it’s possible to strengthen the foundation so you can exercise and be active and back pain is much less likely to flare up.
The spine is an incredible structure. It houses and protects the spinal cord and the muscles and connective tissues that link it to the rest of the body protects your organs and stabilizes your body as you move.
We are born with the innate, embodied knowledge of how to use this part of our body to move well. The first movements infants do is to build the stability of the torso. Fairly quickly, that stability leads to moving the arms and legs in crawling, standing, walking, and lifting.
The challenges start when we introduce forces to the spine that strain it.
Sitting in a chair for extended periods of time. In this position, the head can’t help but be pulled forward, and the tailbone tucks under, taking the spine out of the strong, stable position of its natural alignment. What we have been told is ‘good posture’, with the shoulders back and chest out, is just as straining as slouching. We tend to go between slouching and ‘good posture’, and our back is constantly working. Chronic pain is often the backs way of saying “hey! I'm tired, I need a breath!” When the spine is naturally aligned, the muscles and connective tissue get to relax and recharge even while standing or sitting.
Doing sit-up tests in grade school physical education trained the body to forget how the core is meant to function as a support. The movement of sit-ups (crunches and machines that mimic this movement) asks the core muscles and spine to perform a movement they are not designed to do. Sit ups were meant to be a test that unfortunately made their way into mainstream fitness. Marketing science caught on, realizing they could sell the idea that core exercises will burn off belly fat and now we have a world wide web filled with misinformation about the core.
The combination with these first two, along with the ‘no pain, no gain’ and “more is better” mindsets has led to exercises that strain the spine, and encourage you to push through pain and move in ways that strain rather than strengthen.
Getting back to movement science uncovers three skills foundational that reduce recurrent back pain. While there are many causes of back pain and many exercises you could do to help, these three exercise skills are the foundation. They return your body to what it knows and gives it what it needs to keep your spine comfortably stable, strong, and flexible.
The three skills for reducing recurrent back pain
Here are the three foundational skills for reducing back pain are:
Strong: Rest in your natural alignment: Restore stability by spending as much time as possible in your natural alignment. When you notice you are slouching or overcorrecting into ‘good posture’, use that feeling to shift into your natural alignment. This gives the muscles and connective tissue a chance to recharge when you’re not moving. Just as your cell phone needs a recharge, the muscles and connective tissue of your body do too. Shifting into your natural alignment when not moving reduces the tension and fatigue that can contribute to chronic back pain. This also builds confidence that you can trust what your body is telling you about your back.
Stabile: Restore the core as support: Strengthen the ability of your core muscles to stabilize your spine. The core muscles may look like they are designed to move your torso, but movement science knows the core muscles main job is to stabilize. When we use them to move, they are strained and the risk of hernia and diastasis recti increases. When we isolate the core, as in planks, we lose the muscle memory to use them while moving the arms and legs. Strengthening the muscle memory for using the core muscles as stabilizers during the movements of daily life is true functional strengthening. When the core remembers its part of all movement, your whole body is stronger and you know you can move without straining your spine.
Flexible: Avoiding movement or doing too much too soon increases stiffness and reduce the movement tolerance of your body. The body needs a balance of strength, stamina and mobility. Doing too much of one type and avoiding the other reduces the spine’s ability to move in daily life. The first one I recommend adopting is doing mindful stretching moments once or more a day to release tension throughout the day. Modern daily life with its chairs and screens will strain your spine, no matter how careful you are. Stretching releases the tension held from emotional stress and physical strain. However, we have come to think of stretching as something to do before or after exercise to lengthen tight muscles. This outdated image of stretching has limited its use. Newer research is giving us a cellular-level understanding of what happens when you stretch. Science-based stretching aligns with the way your body is designed to move with the greatest stability and strength. Incorporating the muscle memory for alignment and core support, along with an updated understanding of what is happening when you stretch, means stretching is no longer straining. Instead, it’s an in-the-moment way to release the tension buildup so it does not leave muscles ready to spasm with a simple movement. Balancing this daily habit with regular functional mindful strength and energizing stamina restores the flexibility of the spine in daily life.
Studies show fear of pain can increase pain. The confidence you can move well in daily life can reduce back pain. These three skills of resting in your natural alignment, using your core for support, and doing a balanced of the three types of exercise in a pain-free range, keep your spine happy, with greater protection from the strains of daily life.
Why muscle memory is so important for reducing back pain
These skills rely on muscle memory—the brain-body connection that allows movement to happen naturally. As an infant, you developed this muscle memory. Influenced by factors like the ones I mention above, that muscle memory has faded, but it’s possible to restore it. However, it takes about two weeks of consistent practice to develop muscle memory. In other words, you cannot learn these skills overnight.
The Foundations program is carefully designed to give your body time to relearn how to move the way you are designed. If you are challenged by recurrent back pain, take the time to restore this muscle memory in the one-week program that gives you skills for exercising for whole-person health and lasting habits. And when you strengthen your foundation, exercise can keep you strong and confident in your whole person.
Bottom line: Three foundational skills for reducing back pain episodes are:
Resting in your natural alignment when not moving.
Using all the core muscles, including the pelvic floor, when you are moving.
Taking mindful, science-based stretch breaks one or more times a day to release tension that builds up from mental stress and physical strain.
The key is turning these skills into daily habits! Click here for more information about how to do that.
Be “in the know” by checking out these common exercise mistakes to avoid that can keep back pain coming back