How can I alleviate back pain?

1. Sit less

Whilst this might be a fairly obvious one, and something that almost all of us will be familiar with, it is worth repeating. We are not designed to spend long periods of time seated, as it is not favourable for our structural health. The bones of the spine – or vertebrae to give them their correct name – are designed to be stacked on top of each other, or neutral, rather than rounded or compressed unevenly for prolonged periods, which is what happens in a seated position.

As tedious as the message may sound, try and get up every 20 minutes or so to stretch and walk around. You will relieve the tension that a sustained static period can cause and it will likely make you more conscious of your position when you return. Even a break of two or three minutes is likely to make a significant difference.

2. Strengthen your core

The right amount of core training is a vital part of a balanced training programme. It helps to ensure that the limbs impact on and interact with the trunk in a way that is favourable, loading the joints correctly, enabling us to move in a way that is efficient and pain free. What this means in practical terms is that our trunk, or core, needs to be strong enough to promote, and resist, movement in multiple directions.
From a training perspective, we need to condition our trunk to be able to resist hyperextension of the back by conditioning the abdominals to work in the opposite direction, to resist excessive rotation by strengthening the obliques, and to keep us standing upright by conditioning the muscles of the lower back. And we need to develop adequate amounts and the right balance of strength and stability across all of these areas in order to move well and vastly reduce the risk of pain or injury.

3. Improve your posture

Posture is the way that we hold ourselves both statically, when standing still, and dynamically, when we perform tasks that involve bending, lifting and so on. When posture is good, the vertebrae in the spine are correctly aligned and loaded and we move efficiently. In some circles the issue of posture is perhaps overplayed, especially for those with otherwise healthy structures, but if we can improve our posture, both statically and dynamically, we are likely to be taking a significant amount of load and stress off our bodies.
Focus on corrective exercise will also help, but improving efficiency of movement, especially in the gym, will probably yield greater changes. If we take the time to do some movement re-education training and learn how to move and exercise in the right way, whilst perhaps also targeting some specific muscles, we will probably find that this this will go a long way towards alleviating any symptoms, as the right muscles start to become more active and our body becomes systemically stronger.

4. Develop structural balance

Most of us have muscle and strength imbalances throughout our bodies.
If we use our previous example of spending too much time in a seated position, where the muscles at the front to the hips tighten and the muscles of the backside become relatively weak, a good programme of hip flexor stretches or Yoga style warrior poses, coupled with some glute activation and strengthening for example, can go a long way to rebalancing the hips. The same is true with an imbalance at the shoulder, where we can focus on strengthening the muscles at the back of the shoulder to bring them in line with those at the front.

We need the correct balance of mobility and stability throughout the body in order to function correctly. Although perhaps not the perfect system, it is also helpful to view the body from a joint-by-joint perspective, where the joints are loaded alternately with either a predominance of mobility or stability. We need a degree of both at each of course, but at the ankle we need more mobility, stability at knee, mobility at the hip, stability in the lower back, mobility in the thoracic spine, and stability at the shoulder.