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5 Ways to Keep Your Back Healthy and Happy

Posted 7/9/2016 by UHBlog

Are you interested in learning how to keep your back healthy and happy? Talk to us.

5 Ways to Keep Your Back Healthy and Happy

Around 30 million Americans at any given time are experiencing back pain. This statistic may not be relevant to you now, but chances are good that sooner or later it will be.

“People don’t very often think about their back until they get a twinge or can’t do something they want to do," says yoga therapist and meditation instructor Dawn Miller, MA. “We tend to recognize the basic principle that it is easier to prevent something than it is to fix it, but we don’t always follow through with that wisdom.”

According to Miller, a sedentary lifestyle or repetitive motion often triggers back pain, including:

  • Improper posture from sitting at your desk, bent over a computer and/or slouching in a chair
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Improper lifting
  • Accumulated tension from chronic stress

“Often people experience back pain as ‘happening overnight’,” she says. “In reality, it's likely the foundation for back pain had been building for a very long time. We tend to not be aware of how we stand, sit and lift – and how daily habits lead to back pain.”

Miller works with patients who might already be experiencing back pain or who want to know how to maintain a healthy back. For these patients, she creates a personalized therapeutic yoga practice for home use after assessing their posture, movement, breathing patterns, specific health conditions and other work and lifestyle considerations.

"I’m often asked, what are the two or three things – usually exercises – that can be done to relieve back pain,” she says. “It’s not that simple and often when people turn to the Internet, they find conflicting information and may end up practicing something that will make their back pain worse.”

To avoid or reduce back pain, Miller suggests five ways to keep your back healthy:

  1. Take notice. Awareness is an important first step toward back health, she says. Actively notice your posture while sitting and standing, which will help you identify bad habits so you can make necessary changes.
  2. Align your body. If you spend a good portion of your day sitting at the office, focus on your alignment by following these practices:
    • When standing, distribute your body weight evenly to the front, back and sides of the feet
    • While sitting in a chair, sit up straight, aligning the ears, shoulders and hips in one vertical line
    • Alternate shifting forward to the edge of the seat with a straight back and sitting against the chair’s support to ease the work of back muscles
  3. Move around. It's important to get up, walk around and/or stretch for two minutes every half hour, Miller says.
  4. Change your posture. Do you cross your legs, lean to one side, hunch your shoulders forward and/or tilt your head? According to Miller, these unbalanced postures can add to your back problems over time.
  5. Reduce your stress. Recognizing stress and knowing what to do is an integral part of back pain prevention and management, Miller says. When you're stressed, you tend to tighten the muscles throughout your body, including those in your back. To relieve this, Miller recommends purposefully tensing the muscles over all of your body, breathing in deeply and holding for a few seconds. When you breathe out, the tension often releases with your exhale.

For help managing back pain, University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network offers services that complement a therapeutic yoga practice, Miller says. For instance, massage, myofascial release, acupuncture and osteopathic manipulation can be effective in maintaining not only a healthy back but also in reducing symptoms when they occur. UH Connor Integrative Health Network also offers the Stress Management and Resilience Training (S.M.A.R.T.) program that can help you develop simple practical tools to manage your stress and build your stress resilience. For more information, visit UH Connor Integrative Health Network’s class listings or call 216-285-4070.

Dawn Miller, MA is a certified yoga therapist, registered Viniyoga yoga teacher, Stress Management & Resilience Training (S.M.A.R.T.™) instructor and meditation instructor at UH Connor Integrative Health Network. You can request an appointment with Miller or any other UH Connor Integrative Health Network provider online.

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