Back pain - put yourself in the driving seat

03:31, Sep 14 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.

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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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