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Here is a story from a ProSlip user which we think is worth airing on our site..might save you a lot of grief..
Why an article on lower back pain on a site selling brake grease? For the same reason gym classes should be sold at Dunkin Donuts. In short we who do our own ‘mechanicking’ (as Fred Dibner used to say) and many of us will go on to develop lower back pain and the adage prevention is better than cure is certainly true when it comes to looking after your back which is why I want to share how I cured my back problem and what I did to keep pain free and be able to work on my cars
Us DIY car enthusiasts are especially at risk of developing lower back pain as we strain and twist to overcome the limitations of not having the right tools or a ramp. Anyone who’s changed a head gasket or cam belt, leaning over the engine all day really feels it in the back at the end of the day. Often, as I’ll discuss later, we adopt a position which makes it much harder for the back to remain strong – head down with the chin on your chest.
I should say at this point that healthcare rather than lubrication is closer to my area of expertise as I worked for many years as a pharmacist. I lost count of how many people I met with a back problem I felt could have been remedied using my method instead of pills and more pills. Those people I did spend time with reported good results and I promised myself if I ever got the chance I’d spread the word…Spreading!
What I also want to mention is the power of observation. Penicillin and vaccines were discovered based on a single observation. The double blind cross over clinical trial is the gold standard for testing ideas and drugs but just because only one person found a solution does not meant that solution is not valid…it just may not be suitable for everybody..
I managed to fix my ten year back problem not because I visited healthcare professionals but by a sort of trial and error process and finding out what worked for me, for my back, for my situation. The healthcare business is set up to produce solutions for most people and not to look for a hundred different solutions for the same thing.
Let’s suppose you had a serious illness for which there was no cure only. One day walking in the woods you meet a man who tells you he had the same condition but it disappeared. Intrigued you ask how and the man replies he cut himself chopping wood, the wound became infected and he had a raging fever for three days. At the end the illness had gone. Did you tell your doctors about it you ask – he says he mentioned it to the nurse but she just smiled. They probably think I’m dead by now anyway he concludes. You realise without a massive effort very few people will ever learn of this story.
My problem developed in my early 30’s when I pushed out a disc straining to open a window which the decorators doing my parents house had painted shut. The disc didn’t move at the time because I felt fine but I’d obviously loosened something as it was only the next day while washing the dishes leaning over the sink that my back suddenly ‘gave way’. The result was a small amount of discomfort but my whole upper body shifted sideways so that it was out of line with my legs! It looked pretty frightening.
After a period of weeks it resolved and everything went back to normal. Over the next decade the situation progressed in the following manner. I had a few more episodes of my body shifting sideways over my hips which resolved without intervention. I found that by pulling myself up on a tree branch typically – and dangling my legs, head well back and spine arched I could speed up the resolution – that is getting the disc to drift back to where it wanted to be.
Gradually these bouts increased in frequency and the presentation changed from the initial dislocation of the upper body to sciatic pain – in the buttock, hip and knee. As you know if you’ve suffered from sciatica healthcare professionals offer little other than ‘keep active’. I visited physio’s, chiropractors, physicians in the UK, France and Holland.
Things all came to a head on day in Amsterdam in 20005 – over a decade after the initial event – when I collapsed on the pavement in the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. A trip to the hospital, a bill for 400Euros and advice to ‘ go home, have a hot shower – you have lumbago’ was the diagnosis and treatment.
After that I resolved to figure out my own solution – and I did. Since that day I have not had an attack of sciatica or back pain and have snowboarded, played squash, lifted weights and fixed my cars without any issues.
Here is what I did and when you look at the technique from biomechanical point of view it all makes sense. My discovery was to change the way I move.
I had noticed that my disc was most likely to move when I was in a certain position or doing certain things – like putting on my socks. In this position your spine is curved forward and your chin with your head looking at your feet is on your chest. I adapted my daily movements to avoid reproducing this position – chin on chest spine curved forward. I realised that lots of things I was doing during the day put me in this position. Getting out the car for example – head ducks down to clear the door, leaning forward. When getting out the car you also swivel on the seat while your ducking down – your back hates this.
The spine was not designed to be used by humans. The spine works fine on a cat – it’s designed to flex but not to be load bearing. We inherited a design fault when – because of our large brains and binocular vision – we stood up and walked on two legs. If you were going to design a two legged creature which had arms to pick things up you would design the back with a strut each side of the torso from the rib cage down to the pelvis. No back problems – of course you wouldn’t be as flexible.
The design of the spine as it is though means there are just a few lower – lumbar – vertebra between pelvis and ribcage which end up flexing under load.
Before we explore the technique further we will do a little physics – mechanics in fact. This will explains why this strategy has a profound effect on spine strength. Think of you bicep muscle. It starts at the top of your shoulder and ends at the elbow. If you wanted your arm to lift 50 times more weight you would unhitch the bicep from the elbow and attach it to the wrist. This the law of the lever.
The muscles on the spine of a cat don’t do any lifting. Contrast this with the upright human. Those muscles you can feel on your lower back have to work when you lean forward to hold you in position – but they don’t like it because they are not anywhere near attached in the right place to winch your head and shoulders up and down as you lean over an engine bay. They are working against a mechanical disadvantage. When you pick something up in your arms and lean forward your lower back muscles are fighting to keep you upright. What the physics of the lever reveals is that for a given load as the lever gets longer you need less force – breaking bar principle. Your back muscles are very short levers as they’re acting over a short distance to lift your whole upper body – which they weren’t designed to do. Thinking back to the bicep example your back would be much stronger if the muscles finished their attachment close to the top of the spine.
Small increases in load – carrying an infant- put an every increasing strain on your lower back muscles. Understanding this is the key to the technique and how to implement it yourself day to day – it will make your back not only more stable but stronger.
A compounding problem is that humans in order to house that large brain have a large skull. The head is heavy relative to our size. The average head weighs around 10 pounds! TEN bags of sugar! Your head is constantly moving around and I discovered it has a massive effect on back strength. A fundamental part of the technique is to adjust the head position so as to maximise back strength – usually this means resisting the natural tendency to drop the head – for example when picking up a load – and instead leaning the head backwards and perhaps not actually looking at the load.
Now the ground work is set we can move on to looking at the technique as applied to specific situations. Once you get the idea you’ll be able to integrate it into your daily life and adapt it to suit any situation.
Lifting Stuff – A Small Infant
Look at the picture of the powerlifter – her head is well back. With the head tilted back the load on the lower back muscles is greatly reduced. The back muscles already have a job on their hands lifting that weight but with the head forward, chin on chest, this is shortening the lever making the muscles work much much harder. Remember those muscles and ligaments are attached to the spine – the extra stress will begin to de-stabilise the vertebra as the muscles and ligaments strain to keep the status quo. When the head is tilted back the lower back can’t help but flatten out – this increases the power of the lever, the muscles don’t have to worry about the head anymore – it’s been ‘off loaded’.
A key part of the technique is changing the head postion to reduce the strain on the muscles. Head position is everything. Even a small change – tilting the head back a little will be amplified in terms of the gain in reduced load to the back muscles.
So, when you go to lift something follow this technique to the letter.
- Look at the object and decide where you’re going to place your hands. Once you’ve ‘sighted’ the object you don’t need to keep looking at it so..
- Bend your knees
- Take your eyes off the object and tilt your head back so that your face is looking upwards slightly. The heavier the object the further back you need your head to be.
- Lift the object by straightening your legs and pushing your hips forward.
- Once the object is lifted don’t be tempted to drop your head and look at it
- Keep your head back as you walk with the object keeping it as close to your body as possible
- As you approach where the object is going to be placed understand how to place it beforehand
- As you put the object down again don’t look at it until you’ve released it with your head stil tilted back.
- Don’t lean forward with the object -try and keep it close to your body as you let it down
Walking Down a Slope
Most people when they walk downstairs or a hillside look downwards at their feet. This brings the chin onto the chest and the head is forward. If your lower back is unstable the jarring as you place your feet can cause the disc to move. So practice walking down things with your eyes looking a few feet infronnt of you rather than have your head tilted forward. As with lifting an object you’ll get used to scanning the terrain in front of you to look out for anything that could trip you up.
more to come!