When I started working in tech, tension in my lower back appeared quite quickly. It was frequent and nagging, but nothing I couldn't handle.
Over time, tension turned into pain. I hadn't noticed it at first, but the pain was affecting my mood. I started paying attention when people kept asking me why I wasn't my cheerful self.
It was obvious that I couldn't keep sweeping the effects of pain under the rug anymore—they were touching every aspect of my life.
As a part of my effort to reduce the pain, I tried various exercises to strengthen my back muscles. But instead of making me feel better, they seemingly made the pain worse. I also tried changing chairs and desks. This helped a little, but the pain soon came back.
What else could I try to reduce pain in my lower back?
Lower back muscles work too much
It turns out, lower back pain is among the most common afflictions of the tech world. While there can be many causes of lower back pain, the pain I was experiencing was because my lower back muscles had to work too much.
This explains why strengthening exercises didn't help—I was trying to work out muscles that had been exhausted. It also explains why the situation seemed to be getting progressively worse.
Through studying the Feldenkrais method, I learned to quickly release the muscle tension. While this alone didn't rid me of the pain completely, it significantly lessened it. It was the first step that eventually helped me do the job I love, pain-free.
Exercise to relieve muscles of your lower back
This is a 5-minute awareness exercise that helped me relieve some of the tension in my lower back, and I'm hoping that it will help you too. You can do the exercise whenever you feel something brewing in your back.
Before you start
- You will need a firm surface to lie on. The floor is best, but only if it doesn't hurt. If needed, you can soften the surface with a blanket or a yoga mat.
- Being present and aware of your body in movement is the key—repetitive movements won't do much.
- Range of movement is irrelevant.
- You are not exercising your muscles—you are showing your nervous system that muscles can work less.
- If any of the movements hurt, don't do them. Consult with your physician.
Audio of the exercise
You can do the exercise along with this audio recording.
Lie long on the floor.
Sense how your whole back touches the floor. Where can you feel more pressure, and where less? Are there parts that aren't touching?
Notice your lower back—is it far away from the floor? You can slide your hands beneath your lower back to sense the difference between the two sides.
Bend your knees, and stand up the feet, hip-width apart. Your knees are pointing towards the ceiling, and your feet are on the floor. Notice how the contact with the floor changed.
Interlace fingers of the left hand with the fingers of the right, and put the hands behind the middle of your head.
Breathe normally. When you exhale, gently lift your head a little bit with your hands, and then bring it back to the floor. As you lift, bring your elbows slightly closer to the head. Repeat a few times, and notice where your back touches the floor as your head moves.
Rest. This is as important as doing—it allows your nervous system to recalibrate muscle distribution.
Gently tilt your pelvis so your lower back comes closer to the floor, while your belly stays soft. Your pelvis doesn't lift off the floor. Notice how new parts of your back touch the floor. Return to the middle.
Breathe normally. During your next exhale, tilt your pelvis again, and gently lift the head with your hands. Notice where the pressure increases. Bring everything back to the starting position. Do a few more times.
Lie long, with the arms at your side. Which parts of your back are touching the floor now? Is it any different than in the beginning?
While there isn't a single solution for lower back pain, it is possible that your back muscles are working too much. Fortunately, you can show them how to work less with only 5 minutes of moving with awareness.
Thanks for your time,
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