Ouch. That about sums up a stiff back. For something we think we don’t use too much, a stiff back sure can throw a wrench in your day, week, month…year. I shiver just thinking about how much trouble a stiff back can cause. Everyone gets a stiff back at some point. The issue is that not everyone deals with it.
Just because you have a stiff back doesn’t mean you have to give in to it.
In fact, your stiff back is probably telling you something, like any pain tries to do. A broken foot is yelling at you to sit back down, something’s broken, you can’t walk. Similarly, your back is trying to tell you something…it just might be like trying a child you can’t form words yet. You can understand, it’s just going to take time, attention, and a little trial and error.
Ten thousand pills later, our backs still hurt and now to make matters worse, so does our neck, we have a headache, and our knees hurt. What gives?
Well, one, medicine isn’t a cure all. NSAIDs are great for relieving pain due to inflammation but there’s a catch, they don’t fix the underlying problem. Now, a lot of times the underlying problem goes away like a period. It ends. A pulled muscle heals. A broken foot mends. But some problems are more complex than that. Which means they require a more complex answer than a painkiller and some water.
Pause. Don’t move a single muscle. How are you reading this? How are you sitting? Do you have posture an old nun school teacher would approve of or are you slouched over your computer? Is your chin tucked to your chest looking at your phone?
Problem number one: Poor posture.
No one is perfect. We won’t be able to stand or sit or sleep with perfect posture all day but that doesn’t mean we should neglect it. Sometimes our stiff backs can come from days, weeks, months, or years of bad posture. And it can be insidious. You might have amazing posture when you’re eating, walking around, working but the moment you start watching TV, playing on your phone, or fiddling on your computer it flies out the window.
Those hours of good posture won’t save you from the hours of bad. Unfortunately. And there’s a lot of really nasty problems that can occur from bad posture like Upper Crossed Syndrome.
It’s an around-the-clock job. For starters, we have to be conscious of our posture all the time. At least, if we don’t want to have good posture make sure you’re supported by a couch pillow or a chair.
Changing your posture is hard. So, start small. Pick an activity that you’ll do every day with good posture. Maybe it’s your exercise program. Or when you check and respond to emails. Or when you do chores around the house. Or the first hour or two after your lunch break. Or your commute to work.
The point is, pick a small window of time from one to two hours. Then, make sure your posture is good for that time and gradually work that time up. It’s not as easy as it looks and you might be even stiffer after you try.
Which brings me to a very important issue when trying to fix posture. Simply sitting up straight will not help you get strong enough to maintain that good posture. You have to work those muscles. If you’ve had bad posture your whole life, you may only be able to start with 15 to 20 minutes of exercise a day. Links will be in the name of the exercise for help.
Here are some exercises:
Plank: From the forearms or the hands, tighten the core, press away from the ground. One straight line.
Walking Lunges: Take one large step out, making sure the knee does not come over the ankle, lower time, upper body stays straight.
Yoga: There are a million different videos out there, including my own. You can try my yoga for stiff backs or any other one out there. Focus on keeping the core engaged, the tailbone slightly tucked and the shoulders rolled back.
I excluded weighted exercise like low rows, deadlifts, and lat pulldowns but if you are interested in lifting weights, check them out! There are about a million more exercises but we’ll move on.
Problem Two: Tension.
This problem relates to posture (as most things do) but another cause of back pain is tension. We all hold our stress somewhere else. Some of us clench our jaw when we sleep leading to jaw pain, headaches, and angry teeth. Some of us lift our shoulders up to our ears just enough to cause a very tight neck and headaches. I tend to pull my shoulders back so I’ll have upper back pain. We all hold it somewhere else.
This one is fixed a little more easily. We just have to learn to pay attention to our bodies. So, when we are in a position that might be stressful, checking finances, in crazy traffic, at a business meeting, check your posture. Notice any spot you’re developing pain. Then, stretch it out for a minute and return it to a neutral position with a deep breath.
Problem Three: Sitting
We spend too much time like this. It’s not good for us. So, if we’re the type of person who has a desk job we need to make standing, stretching, and walking around a priority. Different kinds of desks are available too but the most readily available solution is to stand up, walk around, and even do a quick five minute yoga or stretching routine.
There are other problems as well, bad mattresses and weird sleeping positions, too much time in a car, weakness in muscles, etc.
My suggestion, if you struggle with stiff and sore backs, is to check out my latest video here! There are a bunch of other videos with yoga all over the internet and check those out too. The back needs to be both relaxed and strengthened for you to be rid of back pain.
Try it out!