Back pain causes and help

Back pain comes from many different sources and we all suffer from it, from upper back tension, to the pulled-something pain of the lower and middle back. There’s a saying in Chinese Medicine, “Trying to get healthy after you are sick is like digging a well when you are dying of thirst.” Here are a few things we can do to help our backs to prevent the pain.

My husband asked me once why I exercise every day. I told him some people take pills for the pain, I’d rather spend 10 minutes on the floor exercising and not have to take pills or go to the doctor every few months. Plus, it gives me a few moments to get close to my dog, have a little fun with him, give him some attention that he craves. Nothing like stretching and loving at the same time 🙂

Exercise is obviously important, and the right kind of exercise will ease the pain, building up the support we need to prevent future pain. This site has a great list and videos of various moves, I do a variation of many of these most every day to prevent sciatic pain, which I developed back in the early ’90’s.

From a young age we are taught to sit up straight, but is this always good advice when it means pushing out our chest and feeling uncomfortable? I mean, if that felt comfortable, we’d always sit that way, right? This Ted talk video (also shown below) shows us a different and more comfortable way to sit.

Movement of the spinal column during Tai Chi

A number of people have come up to me to say they had issues with their backs, and are not able to twist the spine much, if at all. Which made me wonder, just how much does the spine really twist while doing Tai Chi? So I went to a Tai Chi forum on Linked in, and was rewarded with this video by Bruce Ching.

Our spines are pretty amazing in all the ways they move. Forward and back, bending right and left, twisting to the right and left, it’s no wonder so many people have back issues. But in doing our forms, if we adhere to the principle of keeping the shoulders aligned over the hips, we keep the twisting to a minimum.

Body Alignment chartThis chart, and my apologies to whomever created this for not giving you credit, shows how the spine also stays in a vertical line while doing our forms correctly.

This makes me think that as a beginner we should be most aware of our posture, especially if we already have back issues. The more correctly we align our posture, keeping vertical when we step out, turning the hips with the waist when we turn to the side, the better our backs will feel. Which will make it easier for us to continue our practice. So if your back is hurting while practicing Tai Chi, have your teacher, or a physical or massage therapist watch you while you do your forms. They should be able to advise where you are bending or twisting further than your body appreciates and how to fix the movement. Remember that what we feel our bodies are doing, is not what it looks like to others. If you don’t have someone to watch you, then take a video of yourself, you may be amazed at how your body is moving as compared to what your mind thinks you are doing.

For a really in-depth look at the movements of the body please check out this very scientific paper on Spinal Engine and Waist Power from Taijiquan Viewpoint by C.P. Ong.

Tai Chi and back pain

It seems there’s been a run on back pain lately, including myself as a recipient of this not-so-fun issue. Tai chi is great for the health, but when it is done wrong, it is possible that pain will ensue.

Recently a student mentioned she had back pain, and that she was trying her best to tuck her tail in, as we say, to keep the tailbone pointed down to the ground. This stretches out the lower back, and when you’re not used to the movement, an hour or more of continued emphasis on this can stretch out muscles farther than they want to go.

Additionally, it’s a fine line between pointing the tailbone straight down, and rolling the pelvis a bit too far forward.

What is the solution then? First, take things easy! Do not keep doing a movement if it is hurting. Take a moment to do a counter stretch – if you feel like the lower back is pushing out, roll forward to rest your hands on your thighs and do a cat and cow stretch, rolling the back up and down. Do some gentle hip circles, to loosen the joints, and get the synovial fluids moving around, lubricating the spine.

Second, take a moment to analyze your posture that is causing the pain. Look in the mirror from the side, or have someone look at you. Is your weight balanced between the two feet? Is your weight centered or a tad forward on the balls of the feet? Then think about what you do during the day. I tend to carry a heavy load at times, usually on my left side. The occasional imbalance during the day will affect the body more than you might think. Be conscious of carrying loads more evenly.

Third, get help! I heartily recommend a good massage therapist, one who will work on the sore areas acupoints that indicate imbalances. It may hurt a little at the time, but you will notice a change in your body the next day, if not sooner. You can also try chiropractic adjustments, or many other energy therapies.

Finally, let yourself relax a bit. It’s not necessary to keep pushing yourself, it’s fine to take a day or week to go slowly and gently. Give your body time to heal, do gentle movements to keep from getting stiff, but back off on the high kicks, heavy lifting, or whatever it is that is aggravating your pain. Notice what causes the pain, and try to find a better way, better posture, better muscle control, or better balance, to keep from causing more pain.