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March 31, 2016
By A. Weinberg, Contributing Columnist
“Called to see if your back was still aligned, and your sheets were
growing grass all on the corners of your bed,” sang the Shins in their
2003 hit “Kissing the Lipless”.
Surrealism aside, an unaligned back is a quite everyday occurrence for
many, which can result in stiffness and pain. According to a study in the
European Heart Journal, the average worker who sits at a desk most of
the day is sedentary for an average of 8.5 hours. That can wreak havoc
on the body. But even if you are not an office drone, there could be
other reasons why you stand and feel your spine seize up.
The top causes have to do with bad posture and inactivity. These are
things that may be more common for the intellectual worker, but affect
many of us to a certain extent. And even if you are running around all
day being active, you may still feel stiff if you haven’t built strength in
your core muscles, or aren’t supporting your back correctly.
The good news is that there are some pretty practical remedies out
there for your poor, achin’ back.
In the modern world, it’s one of the more common problems, so plenty
of people have come up with techniques to alleviate pain in that part of
your body that is the support for your whole body. Here are 7 natural
remedies that scientists agree can help ease that stiff back:
1. Take a Walk (or do other low-impact exercise)
So, maybe you don’t have the cash to get to know Alexander yet. The
good news is that you can start simple, with baby steps. Just taking a
stroll can strengthen bones and muscles, including your feet, legs, hips,
and torso, all which help you walk upright. It promotes spine stability
and increases circulation, which in turn helps to alleviate any pain
associated with stiffness. In 2001, A.F. Marmion at the Shulthess Clinic
in Zurich, Switzerland, looked at three active therapies for patients with
lower back pain. 144 subjects with chronic back pain tried
physiotherapy, muscle reconditioning on training devices, or low-
impact aerobics. After 6 months and then 12 months, they gave them a
questionnaire about pain intensity, pain frequency, and disability before
and after therapy. All three treatments seemed to be equally effective,
but the aerobics was the cheapest of the three. So, if you’re strapped
for cash and your back is bothering you, try some walking, swimming,
step aerobics, or dancing around your apartment.
2. Get Up, Stand up
Don’t give up the fight, as Bob Marley would say. Even if you are too
busy to do anything outside the office (maybe you are a parent or
work several jobs), there are still ways to not be totally sedentary.
Often your back is stiff simply because you aren’t using it. According to
2015 studies by John Buckley, a professor of exercise science at the
University of Chester in England, 2 hours is the recommended daily
amount of time you should be standing up per day.
“But how can I possibly do that if I’m sitting at a desk all the time?”
you may ask yourself. There are several options, including getting up to
talk to co-workers instead of e-mailing them, holding standing meetings
or walking meetings, or getting a desk that allows you to sit or stand
while working at it.
And there’s always the option to stand up and stretch for a moment. If
two hours seems like a lot, start small and stand up for five minutes
every hour or so. Go the bathroom, go get coffee, talk to someone.
Your back will thank you.
3. Stretch and Stretch Some More
Oddly enough, there is controversy about whether stretching is actually
good for you. However, compiled studies have shown that if you are
relaxed, stretching is beneficial for a stiff back and other medical
Nikos Apostolopoulos from the University of Wolverhampton in Walsall,
U.K. researched different experiments of the medical effects of
He discovered that the best ways to elongate were a stretch of gentle
intensity on one’s own or a stretch of discomfort but with the help of a
physical therapist. Again, the key here is feeling calm while doing the
stretch. If you are on your own, you may feel more confident doing
light stretches, but with a therapist feel safe that you won’t hurt
4. Don’t Forget Your Core
A lot of people focus on just the abdominal muscles to support the
back. The doctrine of strong abdominals equal a strong back is
something that I have heard many times.
This will apparently reduce the stiffness. But your core muscles are
more than just your abs. They include: the back, side, pelvis, and
According to a 2012 article from Edward Phillips from the Harvard
Medical school, strengthening your core can promote a healthy back
and good posture, both which will reduce stiffness. He emphasizes that
it is important to focus on exercising all of these muscles, not just the
abdominals, because if you only pay attention to that area, it may
actually cause back pain. Lunges, squats, and planks are all good
exercises for a holistic approach.
5. Try the Alexander Technique
It sounds elegant, and it is. Popular amongst artists and musicians,
who must use their bodies as tools all day long, this method is
beneficial for everyone, especially those with back problems. The
Alexander Technique employs various strategies to change movement
habits in our everyday activities. In 2011, T.W. Cacciatore from the
Oregon Health and Science University studied the short and long-term
effects of this method. It was noted that healthy adults dynamically
modulate postural muscle tone in their body axis.
The experiment aimed to see if not-so-healthy adults could develop this
ability through training. They observed effects of the Alexander
Technique after ten months (short-term), and three years (long-term).
Even in the short-term, it decreased trunk and hip stiffness in
comparison to the control. It was also effective for long-term use. The
average price ranges from $60 to $125 USD per class, but group
lessons can be cheaper.
6. Treat Yourself to a Massage (or a corset)
Exercise and stretching is great, but sometimes you want a more fun
approach to relief.
According to a study by C.I. Tsao Jennie at the David Geffen school of
Medicine in the U.S., massage is far superior to plain relaxation or even
acupuncture for lower back pain. Oddly enough, it was found to be
equally as effective as corsets and exercise.
There are orthopedic corsets to keep your back in place, as well as
more flamboyant ones. However, be cautious with the corset, becuase
if it is too tight, it may cause breathing problems.
Massage is a good bet for a stiff back, and it was discovered that
acupressure, a massage technique using pressure points, provided
more relief than a classical Swedish massage.
7. Get Hot (not cold)
Heat is key for melting away stiffness. In 2015, Jun Xu from
Washington State University and his colleagues looked at applying heat
to a specific acupuncture point.
A total of 40 participants were randomly assigned to four groups of
various heating time lengths: Short (15 minutes), moderate (30
minutes), and long (60 minutes).
After a 2-week treatment and some tests, they concluded that a
moderate to long amount of heat stimulation on the pressure point was
the most effective. But, you don’t necessarily need to pick an
acupressure point for heating. That may be the ideal situation, but in a
pinch, a hot water bottle to prop up the back and keep it pain-free is a
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