“We live in a movement-deprived culture,” says Bradford Butler, DC, author of The Blueprint for Back Pain: The Essential Guide to Non-Surgical Solutions. That fact, he says, predisposes us to stiff and shortened muscles that disrupt the alignment of the 24 vertebrae in our spine, putting pressure on nerves and eventually causing pain.
Here’s an example: If you sit all day at work, the hamstring muscles in the back of your thighs get shorter. If you don’t compensate by stretching, they pull on the pelvis when you stand, stressing the spine. To feel the stretch, stand up and, with straight legs shoulder-width apart, bend forward from the hips. Here are some other basic tips from Butler:
- Drink more water: Dehydration can cause the muscles in your back to stiffen and even spasm. And, the discs in your spine need to be well-hydrated to cushion vertebrae.
- Keep muscles flexible and strong: Take frequent breaks from sitting, and walk or move around enough to raise your heart rate a bit and increase blood circulation. “Muscles want the nutrients and the oxygen that blood carries to them,” says Butler. Yoga is another good way to increase flexibility and strength.
- Sleep on a good mattress: If you need to stretch out stiff muscles when you wake up, it’s time for a new mattress—one that gives you support without pressure points. And, don’t sleep on your stomach.
- Last but not least, follow the advice you probably got as a child: Sit up straight instead of slouching.