Chronic back pain is something a lot of us experience and reaching for a bottle of Ibuprofen every four hours indefinitely doesn’t feel like the right long-term solution. Massages can help; so can visits to a doctor or chiropractor. But what can we do easily at home to help relieve our own back pain and work on our posture at the same time? A researcher and acupuncturist from Palo Alto, CA, Esther Gokhale, set out to study cultures around the world where people don’t seem to experience back pain at all. What she found was a little surprising.
Gokhale recently spoke with NPR’s Morning Edition, sharing the studies that she cited and stories of the people she met during her travels. She met women who spend hours and hours a day hunched over gathering food or weaving and yet don’t suffer from back pain, even as they get older.
She found that American spines now form an “S” shape whereas spines from elsewhere in the world where back pain is not as prevalent form a “J”. This J shape is also what we see when we look back at ancient art. While the concept of re-shaping your spine might sound daunting, Gokhale shares three techniques for relieving back pain and working on posture.
1. Do a shoulder roll.
Americans tend to scrunch their shoulders forward, so our arms are in front of our bodies. That’s not how people in indigenous cultures carry their arms, Gokhale says. To fix that, gently pull your shoulders up, push them back and then let them drop—like a shoulder roll. Now your arms should dangle by your side, with your thumbs pointing out. “This is the way all your ancestors parked their shoulders,” she says. “This is the natural architecture for our species.”
2. Squeeze, squeeze your glute muscles when you walk.
In many indigenous cultures, people squeeze their gluteus medius muscles every time they take a step. That’s one reason they have such shapely buttocks muscles that support their lower backs. Gokhale says you can start developing the same type of derrière by tightening the buttocks muscles when you take each step. “The gluteus medius is the one you’re after here. It’s the one high up on your bum,” Gokhale says. “It’s the muscle that keeps you perky, at any age.”
3. Don’t sit up straight!
“That’s just arching your back and getting you into all sorts of trouble,” Gokhale says. Instead do a shoulder roll to open up the chest and take a deep breath to stretch and lengthen the spine.
—By Molly Goodson for Spright.