Scenario: Imagine you are getting ready for a holiday. You’ve been planning it for a long time. You’ve spent every spare minute fantasizing about all the activities you will partake in. All the details have been meticulously prearranged and it’s now time to pack your suitcase. Your mission is to free the case from where it has been buried for far too long. You find yourself balancing on one leg and twisting slightly to get at it. Now with an unassuming tug you free it from its’ hiding spot. But wait, something’s wrong! That little tug has caused your back to go into spasm. How can such a small movement feel like someone has just stabbed you in the back? Ugh!!
OK so maybe this particular scenario has or hasn’t happened to you. But perhaps you have had the sudden onset of back pain that kept you from doing something you really wanted to do. Something like: a holiday activity; gardening; picking up your child or grandchild; maybe it kept you from going to work … All right that one may not seem so bad for a while. But it’s not so great if you can’t do anything fun either.
I am a massage therapist and I get many people coming to me with these types of scenarios. They will say, “I don’t know how it happened. I picked something up, sneezed, bent incorrectly or whatever and it just went out.” People on holiday often over-exert themselves or spend too many hours sitting poorly in a car or on an airplane. In any case it ends up with the same result, an annoying pain that keeps them from doing what it is they really wish to do.
Back pain is frustrating and can keep you from doing things you love. But I am here to tell you that it doesn’t usually just happen all of a sudden unless you’re involved an accident or something that really jars the back. According to statistics, eight out of 10 people will develop back pain at one point in their lives. And in many cases, people come down with a serious case of back pain for no apparent reason.
While it may seem to be something that strikes from out of the blue, it’s really just the straw that breaks the camel’s back. A whole syndrome of muscular imbalances precedes the movement or sneeze that triggers the back pain incident. It doesn’t take much to cause the muscle spasm to start, if for months or years those muscles have been forced to do something that they were not really designed to do.
It could be that you sit with a tucked pelvis causing the upper back to slump forward forcing spinal discs to bulge, ligaments to over stretch, and muscles in the neck and shoulders to get tense. You may stand with your hips thrust forward in front of the torso causing the weight to be disproportionate over your feet and your back to sway. Or maybe you suffer from hip imbalances because you don’t engage the gluteal muscles enough when walking or running.
These are just a few poor postural habits that come to mind. All muscles are fashioned to do a specific job. Some muscles can become tight if they continuously get used in place of muscles that are designed to carry that particular load. Also, muscles that are meant to do very specialised jobs become weak and underdeveloped when not used as they should be. Ligaments can become loose or over-stretched in both of these scenarios. This can cause the muscles to tense up and spasm in an attempt to protect the area.
In these cases, my clients ask me if massage will fix their problem. I say, “It can definitely help ease the spasming muscle and make you feel more relaxed and at ease. But unless you change your daily habits, it will rear it’s ugly head again.” Don’t get me wrong massage is a great thing…that’s why I do it. But changing your daily habits needs to also be addressed in order for real change to happen. Building greater body awareness is key. Most of us don’t pay a lot of attention to how our body is positioned in daily life.
I am a Certified Gokhale Method® Teacher. I teach posture and alignment courses to help students prevent or relieve back pain using everyday postures like sitting, standing, bending and even sleeping. People will often laugh and try to stand up a bit straighter when I tell them what I do. They will say something like, “Oh ya, my posture is really bad.” But what they don’t understand is that their poor posture habits are the key to them having back, neck or other musculoskeletal pain in the first place. I recommend to my clients and students that they start sitting, standing and moving in ways that help lengthen the spine and strengthen the muscles of the back, deeper abdominals and gluteals. There is a lot that can be done to help prevent sudden or not so sudden back pain from messing up your plans. But you need to make some changes to your daily habits for this to happen.
I teach Free Workshops and Gokhale Method Foundations Courses on posture and alignment. Check out my Teachers’ Page on the Gokhale website for a course near you or to request a course in your city.
Contributed by Michelle “Mickie” Ball – Massage Therapist and Gokhale Method® Teacher Ph: + 61 0428 223 271