Back pain - put yourself in the driving seat

Last updated 15:31 14/09/2012

Among the myriad conditions humans suffer from that aren't terminal, lower back pain is among the most debilitating. What makes it such a pain, literally and figuratively, is that it affects mobility, sometimes takes ages to settle, and tends to be recurrent. It seems to affect those who work in sedentary jobs most of all, which means drivers are vulnerable. Not only are they at the wheel in the same position for extended periods of time, but they are also subject to varying degrees of jarring, depending on the vehicle driven. In my experience, long-distance air flights also put back pain sufferers at increased risk of a recurrence.

Contributing in no small way to back pain are car seats, many of which have inadequate lumbar support and, often as not, no adjustment whatsoever. In those with adjustable lumbar support, it is invariably inadequate. Only in the higher value vehicles with lumbar air pumps is adjustability truly up to snuff.

So what can be done about limiting symptoms and reducing or even preventing recurrences? Back in the mid-90s when Toyota used to make cars locally, they touched base with the McKenzie Institute, which developed an ergonomic seat for the Corona and Corolla models. This had added lumbar support and simply felt right. Even to this day none of the smaller (supermini/compact) mass market cars come close to providing adequate lumbar support adjustability. My search for lumbar rolls led eventually to rediscovering the McKenzie Institute.

For the past few years, I have been experiencing intermittent bouts of lower back pain, most of which are incapacitating for weeks rather than days. Naturally, one tries to do something about this to prevent a recurrence. I tried strengthening core muscle groups by doing situps, and went to yoga regularly, both of which helped but didn't prevent recurrences.

It was the search, as mentioned, for the lumbar roll that led to my discovering the Treat Your Own Back book. It costs $27 and can be bought here

What the author suggests is that in our daily routine we tend to flex the spine way more than we extend it, and for best spinal health, you need to be doing spinal extension exercises regularly to counteract the effects of long-term slouching at a computer screen or behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Cobra posture 2

The McKenzie Institute even recommends doing this form of exercise to hasten the recovery from an episode of back pain, beginning by gently extending the spine, resting on your elbows rather than straightening your arms and supporting your upper body on your hands. Do this often and your recovery is foreshortened.

What helped me also was buying some of the lumbar rolls, both for the car and for home and day job work stations. These not only help to align your spine better while sitting at your desk or in your car, but also relieve tenderness while recovering from an acute episode of lower back pain. Inflatable rolls are available as well, and are recommended for airline flights.

Finally, if you suffer from recurrent back pain, you will probably never be cured of it. For over a year, I hadn't experienced any further recurrences, until recently. And I believe the latest was the result of feeling as though I had been cured, and forgetting to do regular spinal extension exercises.

Note: I have no financial or other interests in the McKenzie Intitute or spinalpublications group.

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Pat Wilson   #1   04:00 pm Sep 14 2012

I suffered with severe lower back pain for more than 30yrs. Gave up mountain biking, golf and anything involving standing for long periods or walking far. Saw about Ian Mckenzie talking on tv about this book , got it and started following the self treatments. Long story short - less than 3 mths later I was feeling great with only minor niggles every now and again. Ian Mckenzie is a genius and the Institute does fantastic work. I can't recommend it enough.

Yankiwi   #2   04:30 pm Sep 14 2012

Step 1 for men: take the wallet out of your back pocket. It's much easier to keep in the front pocket now that I carry less cash!

I've found a brilliant physio that helps me with this stuff, when I do the exercises he prescribes. Unfortunately, he's retiring soon.

I've heard about this book, will keep an eye out for it.

Pete   #3   04:40 pm Sep 14 2012

Your 'core' muscles are designed to work isometrically, e.g. to keep things static, not to contract as in a situp. Planks are easy, functional yet challenging. Situps will often make back pain worse.

postman pat   #4   09:21 pm Sep 14 2012

After 20 years old back, neck, shoulder pain, physios, chiropractors etc that didn't do much and at times made it worse, I brought a inversion table off trademe, best thing i ever did.

sandra   #5   03:17 am Sep 15 2012

I am a dr by profession with expertise in pain relief.One tool i would like to share with you all is about a little known pran yantra,what we call tesla purple energy plates in the western world. These plates became more popular after Linda Goodman wrote about the metaphysical qualities of the plates in her book, The Star Signs. While on a visit to india 2 years ago, i bought a couple of them because they were so cheap at $5 per plate.I used these plates on my patients with back pains, migraine, etc and more than 99 percent of them have positive results.

JJ   #6   06:02 pm Sep 24 2012

"what we call tesla purple energy plates in the western world."

Actually, most people would call these "placebos" (personally, I'd call them bull****, but I don't want to seem impolite). Use some old newspapers next time and save yourself $5, leaves you more to spend on energy crystals and homeopathic remedies. I presume the people who design spine-knotting car seats are doctors to the same extent you are.

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