Extend your spine~ The Roman Chair for back health

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Our spines need to be subtle and strong

When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, the lower back reigns as king. About 80 to 85 percent of people will experience some sort of low back pain in their life. According to the National Health Statistics Survey in 2012, more than 28 percent of Americans live with lower back pain. Back troubles are the No. 1 reason people under age 45 miss out on activities.

Ironically, most people with low back pain overuse their backs, exacerbating the trouble even more. It’s better to use your legs to bend or squat down, or to use your hips in rotational sports like golf or yoga to spare stresses on your lower back.

Our spines need to be supple and strong, as daily tasks demand that the vertebrae bend, flex, rotate and side bend. The spine does an amazing job of handling loads straight down the back, but over time, poor mechanics repeated hundreds of times in daily life and activities can cause low back pain. Even more problematic is our forward bending posture, especially with aging. It seems we’re all forgetting to stand up and extend our spines. Our preference for slumping, sitting or driving is very hard on our back ligaments, and at worst, it becomes structural, resulting in bad posture or back problems. The end result is that greater compressive forces are placed on the intervertebral discs.

If you go to a gym, there is an overlooked piece of gym equipment to help strengthen your back. Typically used as a place to hang your gym towel, the Roman chair, looking somewhat like a stand, can isolate and strengthen the spine extensor muscles.

Exercises such as squats and deadlifts help strengthen your back, but the larger hip extensor muscles do much of the work. The lumbar extensors, multifidi (the deepest muscles near your spine) and the quadratus lumborum are the important muscles for spine health, as they help provide stability in the area of the spine most prone to injury. Think of your spine as two stacked boxes, called the vertebrae, with lots of padding between them—the discs, where most back problems begin. The natural curves of your spine help the discs cushion compressive forces.

Any exercises you do should keep spine stability in mind, and be done with muscle control rather than momentum. Avoid excessive range-of-motion movements that damage spinal ligaments or discs. End-range extension, or forceful hyperextension, places the posterior elements of the spine at risk of damage, especially with spinal stenosis or sports hernia.

 To use the Roman chair, you lie face-down, with the back of your ankles supported, and your navel in line with the edge of the pad. Round your back over the pad, slowly extend your torso parallel to the floor so that you are horizontal from your heels to head, hold for one second and lower for three seconds.  ( View video IMG_3055 )
Published in the Idaho Mountain Express June 30, 2017

Slouch No More

Over time, slouching can be a pain in the neck. At any given time, neck pain affects about 10 percent of the adult population in the U.S. Our heads can be a heavy load, so much so that many of us have lost proper alignment because our heads are too far forward from the rest of the spine. The consequences of your head hanging off the front spine, called forward head syndrome, can result in shoulder and rotator cuff problems, neck aches, headaches, back spasms and poor breathing patterns, all fixable problems.
Forward head syndrome is the first sign that muscle imbalances are present. This causes the front muscles, pectoralis and subscapularis, to become tighter and the muscles around the shoulder blades to become lengthened, both factors limiting the muscles’ functioning. You can assess forward head posture by having a friend look at your posture from the side. A neutral head is rooted firmly, like a tree, in the “ground” of the upper back with the ear aligned with the center of the shoulder.
Now face a mirror. Are your palms, or one more than the other, turned inward? If so, your shoulders are most likely slouched. Opening your hands so that the palms open in front and you can instantly correct some of your slouching.
The key to change is to become aware of old habits creeping in again.
As much as sitting in front of computers and television can be blamed for our heavy hanging heads, the root of the problem isn’t just that. Of course we would want to also look at the rest of the body to see if the cause may be coming from somewhere else. But overall, weak, tight muscles can inhibit moving well, as there is a rich dynamic inherent in the control of posture so that it is relaxed, not work. Ideal standing posture places the body’s joints in a state of equilibrium with the least amount of effort to maintain this upright position.

RX: Sitting upper-back strength exercises:
The cervical neck, seven vertebrae, blend into the thoracic region of the spine. This area supports the head and is an important attachment point for several muscles that support the middle back. You know them, as this is where stress builds up, in the levator scapula, rhomboids and the upper and middle trapezius. The following exercise can improve neuromuscular control and stabilize the spine:
Sit against a wall with your knees bent and firmly press your back, buttocks and shoulders into the wall. Pull your abdominals in to brace your core. Raise your
arms to shoulder level, bending your arms so that they are parallel to the floor and the backs of your upper arms rest against the wall. Gently press the back of your head into the wall, keeping your chin level. Exhale and firmly squeeze your shoulder blades together while
pressing the backs of your arms and shoulders into the wall. Hold for five to 10 seconds, relax, and repeat four times. You can also do this exercise lying on the floor, or advance it by combining it with a wall squat.

RX: Imagine this (sitting, standing or supine) (adapted from “Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery” by Eric Franklin )
Try resetting what standing or sitting straight feels like by visualizing the spine as a chain of spotlights. Turn on the lights and observe their focal directions. If they shine in many confused directions, adjust them so that they all focus in an even plane. Now adjust them so that they shine with equal brightness.

The key to change is to become aware of old habits creeping in again. Healthy shoulders require proper posture, good flexibility and good strength about the scapular region.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine health and fitness specialist. http://www.mtexpress.com/index2.php?ID=2005145909#.UQyHaaXJDzJ

Visit her at www.conniearonson.com.