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Its 12.25am and I am suffering from a serious case of office back pain as I write this, since it’s actually a little past midnight, I know “afternoon back pain” is a bit of a misnomer, but I do most of my writing at night so please bear with me! The midafternoon office back is horrible and we have all felt it from time to time, it comes from hunching over your desk or computer for hours, trying to justify your salary while trying not to be jealous of that wonderful orthopedic chair in your boss’s office!
Back pain is one of the leading causes of disability for people under 45 according to a recent report, and here in Nigeria a lot of young people, especially men in their 30’s are afflicted by it. However, while a lot of guys will quickly attribute their chronic afternoon back pain to “sugar” (cue the Agbo Jedi, and fried meat!) the truth is quite another issue altogether.
To stop being a customer of dubious herbal hawkers, the first thing to understand is the reason your back hurts so bad in the first place. As a human being you are blessed with the ability to walk upright, to do this your spine comes into play as the center point in your body and connects all the joints needed for your movement. Your spine is not straight but a curved S , this enables you to bend and twist at will. The problem is that your spine was not designed to do all this alone, other joints like the hips and shoulders are supposed to share the load with the spine. Modern life has confined us to our desks, chairs and couches for most of the day and this causes the joints that are supposed to work with the spine to lose their range of motion causing the muscles associated with these joints to weaken and when this happens the support joints weaken also, leaving the spine to do a lot more work than it should be doing.
To compensate, the spine has to excessively extend, flex and rotate placing a lot of stress on the tissue between the spinal vertebrae, of course after a while these tissues become agitated, inflamed and injured. The end result? You become a well valued “Agbo Jedi” customer!
A two pronged approach is ideal:
- Improve the range of motion of your joints with frequent and efficient flexibility exercises.
- Avoid prolonged periods of sitting
Unfortunately modern life has made sitting our default position, for example I am sitting down at my desk while writing this, have been sitting for the past hour and will most likely spend another hour sitting, and my back still hurts! Get the picture? If we are not at the computer, we are watching TV or at a bar with friends, in the car we sit. As you can deduce, we sit a lot and it’s not about to change any time soon.
So today I have chosen the first option, a set of range of motion exercises to help strengthen your supportive joints and muscles and take some load off your back. They are easy to do and will not take much time, all you have to do is set a timer for every hour and do any one of the 3 mobility exercises below:
- THE STANDING RAINBOW LAT STRETCH:
Your lat muscles are the big “wing” muscles of your back, the “meat” around your armpits, below and behind. They stretch all the way down your back to your hips, when you spend a long time sitting hunched forward i.e in front of a computer, the muscle shortens and because it is such a large muscle, this causes quite a few problems with posture, flexibility and mobility. This stretch helps return the lat muscle to its proper length.
- Stand upright with the hands clasped behind the head and feet shoulder width apart
- Without bending forward, lean to the left side as if your back is up against a wall
- Look up at you right elbow
- Due to poor flexibility, many people will bend forward and twist slightly, avoid this by keeping your spine as tall as possible.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds
- Repeat twice on each side
- THE STANDING STORK STRETCH:
The hip flexor muscles are strong muscles, and are frequently used during upright standing and movement such as walking, running and climbing. When you sit consistently for long periods of time, these muscles become weak and short. When these become weak due to inactivity the hips can’t move the way they are supposed to, the lumber spine takes up the job and is forced to bend and stay frozen in positions that cause problems with the connective tissue between the vertebrae , Stretching the muscles help return them to their natural length and function.
- Stand upright and bring the heel of your left foot towards your left buttock
- If necessary grab a desk or other stationary object for support
- Using your left hand, grasp the top of your left foot near your ankle
- If you are unable to grab your left foot, use a towel to wrap around your foot
- Squeezing your left butt muscle, stand as upright as possible, while bringing your left knee in line with your right knee
- Slightly push your hips forward while bringing the left heel towards your left buttock
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds then switch sides
- Repeat twice on each leg
- THE STANDING FIGURE 4 STRETCH:
The glutes (buttocks muscles) are powerful hip extensors that help you walk around and stay upright, they also help rotate your hips in and out. If you are inactive, these muscles become weak and rigid. In this case, hip extension and rotation is replaced with excessive spine extension and rotation when standing up, walking running etc. stretching the hip rotators (the glutes) allows them to function properly and not overburden the spine.
- Stand upright and bend the right knee and place the outside of the right ankle right above the left knee
- Place your hands on a stationary object for support if necessary
- Keeping your hips facing forward and your spine tall (keep your chest up) slowly bend your left knee while pushing your hips back
- Continue to bend your knee, keeping your hips forward and your spine tall until you feel a strong stretch in your right glute area
- Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds
- Repeat twice on each leg
And that’s all there is too it! Remember to do any one of them every hour or 2 and you will easily avoid the mid-afternoon (or midnight in my case!) back pain.
Thanks for reading, and do have a wonderful, pain free week!