Denver got a big dump of snow this past weekend……2 feet at my house! As a life-long Coloradoan I know that if I want to eventually get out of my driveway, I have to shovel several times before the snowfall ends. NOW I’m even careful and conscientious about HOW I shovel. Shoveling snow always reminds me of my last semester of PTA school. PT and PTA students hear over and over about body mechanics and how NOT to hurt yourself while working with patients. We’re even graded on it! On winter break before my last semester of PTA school I managed to strain a muscle in my back. Mostly I did this by transferring my Dad (who was sick and deconditioned from a long hospital stay) by myself. Then a week later I shoveled the snow in my driveway at breakneck speed ( and bad body mechanics). This sealed the deal….the back pain was excruciating! The PTA Department Head clucked at me when I told her why I had to postpone updating my CPR certification, because after all……I should have known better. P.S. Physical Therapy folks ALWAYS want to know how you injured yourself. It’s so tempting to make up a zany story to tell them.
This experience has brought me a few pearls of wisdom. First, don’t beat yourself up for doing something that you could have done better or differently. In the moment, you did the best you could. Second, shovel snow with mindfulness. Some things to remember are: Don’t rush through it. Be conscious of your movements. Don’t twist your spine as you toss snow to the side. Bend at the knees (don’t hunch the back). As you bend the knees and get snow on the shovel, brace the shovel against your leg and use it as a lever to lift. Take breaks. A great snow shoveling break is to look up at the tree branches covered in snow. After all, why not enjoy the beauty of the snow? Ask for help if it’s available. Rest after you shovel, then do a few stretches. I teach two weekly classes that are well suited to back pain; Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30) and Unwind the Spine (Fridays at 4:30). If you want a quick practice to do on your own, a great yoga sequence for your back is:
Supta Padangusthasana (Supine Hamstring Stretch)
Figure 4 (Piriformis) Stretch
Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
Apanasana (Knees to Chest Pose)
Balasana (Child Pose)
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pidgeon)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)
Malasana (Squat) or Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby)
Try to hold each of these postures (except Cat/Cow) for at least 6 breaths. This gives the muscles time to release. If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also sign up for a class or private session by clicking here.
“Degenerative Disc Disease”…..those words uttered from your doctor’s mouth can make you feel downright ancient. The simple truth is that as we get older, some wear and tear is going to happen. But seriously….do they have to tell us we’re “degenerating?” Are we degenerating? What does this term “Degenerative Disc Disease” (DDD, for short) mean?
First, let’s take a look at the spine. It’s made up of a bunch of vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Between each vertebrae are the intervertebral discs. The discs are squishy structures that are made up mainly of water and collagen. Their job is to help stabilize. cushion, absorb pressure, increase flexibility, and protect the nerves. That’s a lot of work these little squishy wonders do! Unfortunately, over time, the discs show signs of wear and tear. They lose moisture and squishiness and are less effective. Often an individual can have this degeneration without any pain or other symptoms. DDD happens when this normal process of degeneration causes pain or disfunction. For some, the pain can be constant and unrelenting. For others, it is intermittent. DDD most often occurs in the low back or in the neck. In this post, we’ll focus on the low back.
One of the best ways to help alleviate low back pain from DDD (and other conditions) is to strengthen the deep abdominal muscles. Many yoga and fitness classes focus on strengthening these core muscles. Doing so increases support for the low back. Other great activities to practice are walking, swimming, and stretching. Stretching and movement increase blood flow to the disc, and thus facilitates the healing process. Physical therapy, regular yoga practice, and Functional Yoga Coaching can help as well. A sampling of yoga postures that work well to decrease the pain and discomfort associated with DDD are:
Perhaps you’ve heard this phrase designed to demonstrate the problems that sitting for long periods of time can cause to our bodies. Is this an exaggeration? Can sitting compete with smoking as far as causing permanent harm to your body? There’s no doubt that the more you sit, the less you move, and even moderate levels of movement contributes to good cardiovascular health. But what about the spine? Why are we so achy after a long day of work at a desk? More importantly….what can we do about it?
First lets talk ergonomics and body mechanics. Generally, when sitting at a desk the spine is misaligned. Often the pelvis tilts under and more pressure is put on the vertebral discs and the deep muscles of the back. These muscles then need to work against gravity to keep the spine erect all day long. No wonder they get tired and achy! Additionally, the shoulders and head may hunch forward. The muscles of the neck already do a lot to hold up our heads, so when we bring our heads forward to look at a computer screen for example, they have to work even harder and get tight. As if that’s not enough, sitting can also lead to tight hip muscles and weaken the gluteus muscles The glutes help support the low back and knees, and help us with balance.
So what do we do about this? Obviously if work involves a desk, sitting is just a part of life. Here are some suggestions:
Use a small, folded towel (think hand towel) under the sitting bones at the back of the chair to elevate your hips slightly. This can help you sit without rounding your spine and tucking your tailbone. Thus, taking a little pressure off the low back.
Take breaks during the day to move. Get up every now and then and do 10-20 heel raises. Going up and down on your tippy toes will increase blood flow and strengthen the calf muscles.
Stretch your outer hips with the Figure Four Stretch. Sit toward the edge of the chair and cross your ankle over the opposite thigh the lean forward (hinge at the hips) with a flat back.
Throughout the day squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times. This will help reverse when you hunch your shoulders forward.