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.

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