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Sample Chapter:
Caring for Your Back
Sample Routine:
Traveler's Stretches
Sample Routine:
Gardening Stretches

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More Stretching Resouces


Stretching
30th Anniversary Revised Edition

Sample Chapter
Caring for Your Back

More than 50 percent of all Americans will suffer from some sort of back problem some time during their lives. Some problems may be congenital, such as sway back or scoliosis (lateral curvature of the spine). Others may be the result of an automobile accident, a fall, or sports injury (in which case the pain may subside, only to reappear years later). But most back problems are simply due to tension and muscular tightness, which come from poor posture, being overweight, inactivity, and lack of abdominal strength.

Stretching and abdominal exercises can help your back if done with common sense. If you have a back problem, consult a reliable physiciam who will give you tests to see exactly where the problem lies. Ask your physician which of the stretches and exercises shown in this book would be of most help to you.

Anyone with a history of lower back problems should avoid stretches, called hyperextensions, that arch the back. They create too much stress on the lower back, and for this reason I have not included any such stretches in this book.

The best way to take care of your back is to use proper methods of stretching, strengthening, standing, sitting, and sleeping. For it is what we do moment to moment, day to day, that determines our total health. In the following pages are some suggestions for back care. (Also see pp. 26–33.)

Some Suggestions for Back Care and Posture

Never lift anything (heavy or light) with your legs straight. Always bend your knees when lifting something, so the bulk of the work is done by the big muscles of your legs, not the small muscles of your lower back. Keep the weight close to your body and your back as straight as possible.

Getting in and out of chairs can be a hazard to your back. Always have one foot in front of the other when rising from a chair. Move your bottom to the edge and, with your back vertical and chin in, use your thigh muscles and arms to push yourself straight up.

If your shoulders are rounded and your head tends to droop forward, bring yourself into new alignment. This position, when practiced regularly, will lessen back tension and keep the body fresh with energy. Pull your chin in slightly (not down, not up), with the back of your head being pulled straight up. Think of your shoulders being down.

Breathe with the idea that you want the middle of your back to expand outward. Tighten your abdominal muscles as you flatten your lower back into the chair. Do this while driving or sitting to take pressure off the lower back. Practice this often and you will naturally train your muscles to hold this more alive alignment without conscious effort.

If your shoulders are rounded and your head tends to droop forward, bring yourself into new alignment. This position, when practiced regularly, will lessen back tension and keep the body fresh with energy. Pull your chin in slightly (not down, not up), with the back of your head being pulled straight up. Think of your shoulders being down.

When standing, your knees
should be slightly bent (1/2 inch), with feet pointed straight ahead. Keeping the knees slightly bent prevents the hips from rotating forward. Use the big muscles in the front of the upper legs (quadriceps) to control your posture when standing.

If you stand in one place for a period of time, as when doing the dishes, prop one foot up on a box or short stool. This will relieve some of the back tension that comes from prolonged standing.

A good, firm sleeping surface helps in back care. If possible, sleep on one side or the other. Sleeping on your stomach can cause tightness in the lower back. If you sleep on your back, a pillow under your knees will keep your lower back flat and minimize tension.

When you are aware that your posture is bad, automatically adjust into a more upright, energetic position. Good posture is developed through the constant awareness of how you sit, stand, walk, and sleep.

Many tight and so-called bad backs can be caused by excessive weight around the middle. Without the support of strong abdominal muscles, this extra weight will gradually cause a forward pelvic tilt, causing pain and tension in the lower back.

  1. Develop the abdominal muscles by regularly doing abdominal curls. Exercise within your limits. It takes time and regularity. But if you don’t get into it, the condition will only worsen.

  2. Develop the muscles of the chest and arms by doing knee push-ups. These push-ups isolate the muscles in the upper body without straining the lower back. Start an easy three-set routine such as 10–8–6, or whatever — just get started!

  3. Stretch the muscles in the front of each hip as shown on p. 51, and stretch the muscles of the lower back (pp. 26–33 and 63–67). By strengthening the abdominal area and stretching the hip and back areas, you can gradually undo the forward pelvic tilt that is, in so many cases, the main cause of back problems

  4. Slowly let the size of your stomach shrink by not overeating.

  5. Learn how to walk before you jog, and jog before you run. If you walk a mile a day (at one time) every day, without increasing your calorie intake, you will lose ten pounds of fat in one year.