Take Time to Stretch Your Spine
Why do North Americans suffer from so many back problems? There are many theories to explain the high incidence of back pain but one major reason is the amount of time we spend sitting. We get up... and sit at breakfast, sit in the car or on the bus, often we sit at work, we sit in the car on the way home, sit to eat supper and then sit to watch television or to read.
How does this lead to back problems? To begin with, the lumbar spine is under the most stress in the seated position, especially when slouching or sitting with no support to the small of the back. An important factor that contributes to this is the hip flexor muscle, a muscle with a strange name that is often overlooked when recommending stretching routines, even by health care workers and athletes. The psoas (pronounced SO-az) muscle is a very large muscle which is attached to the front of all the lumbar vertebrae and to the inside of the upper leg near the groin. This muscle lies deep inside the abdomen until it passes under the inguinal ligament on its way to the thigh. Its function is to flex the hip and it is active when you lift your leg.
Part of the problem arises because this muscle is shortened when we sit and is seldom stretched by any normal everyday activities. If it is shorter on one side it can twist the lower spine. If it is short on both sides it leads to a swayback and puts pressure on the low back vertebrae. In acute low back strain it is the spasms in this muscle which make it hard to stand up straight or to lift your leg to put your socks and shoes on, and often cause pain on taking a deep breath. Other symptoms of psoas spasm are pain or numbness in the front of the thigh, pain in the groin (often mistaken for ovary pain), pain at the bottom of the rib cage, or turning-out of one foot.
One of the best methods to prevent back problems is a psoas stretch: lie flat on your back on the floor or a hard surface and bring one knee up to your chest, holding it with both hands. Bring it as far as you can comfortably, making sure the other leg is flat. If you have knee problems, hold your leg behind the knee. It is the straight leg side which is being stretched. Hold it for 30 seconds and then do the same with the other leg. This is best done in the morning and again at night. If you are very flexible you may find that you will get a better stretch lying on a bench or the edge of a bed so that while one knee is up to the chest, the other leg is dropped over the edge.
If you already have back pain this will give some relief, but actual correction will require professional treatment by your family chiropractor. Then this exercise can become an important part of maintenance and prevention of future problems.