The Ardipithecus Ramidus was the first “humanoid” that had the funny idea to walk upright, about 4.4 million years ago. And we, its direct descendants, also walk in the same manner. We are the only bipedal animals on earth; or just say a gross anomaly in earth history (ab.4.55 billions years). A few mammals, such as the monkey, stand-up at times, but spend most of the time either sitting or walking on four.

This inheritance has serious consequences in this modern world where a large part of the population is sitting at a desk while another portion is doing hard physical work largely above man’s natural ability. Add to this that only an insignificant part of the population exercises and that related education is inexistent, and you reach a pathetic fact: one third of humans above 30 years of age suffer from back - mostly lower back - pain.

Let’s look at the causes of pain.
The dorsal spine is supporting the whole upper body, or at least 60% of your own weight, and up to twice this load when you carry heavy charges. The lower spine is especially at stress, since it is supported only by the abdominal belt muscles.
If the abdominal belt is not strong enough, the lower spine easily gets damaged, and most generally, it’s the cartilage disks between vertebrae that get worn out.

Main lower back (lumbar) problems come in two categories: physiological and biomechanical. Main physiological causes are disk hernia, arthritis, bony encroachments and osteoporosis. These can only be healed with proper treatment or surgery in a hospital. Main biomechanical problems, instead, are most generally the result of improper use of the human body (wrong posture, carrying heavy loads, stress, etc.). They include:

  1. Spine distortion (such as scoliosis)
  2. Vertebrae slipping off-line
  3. Crushed or worn out disks
  4. Strained ligaments
  5. Nerves irritation

Usually these problems (apart from scoliosis) arise around the age of 30 or later. Most will put the vertebrae in wrong positions, which in turn will crush and irritate the spinal cord and the nerves, especially the sciatic nerve that runs along the legs down to the feet. The resulting pain and stiffness can be extremely incapacitating and have dramatic consequences on one’s life style. In men it can even lead to impotence. Chiropractic treatment has a relieving but short-term effect, and most people end-up taking daily doses of painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines, which in turn have severe consequences on the digestive system. Fortunately, there is more to do than just taking medicines: watch your posture, exercise, and do daily stretches.

Here is my advice. First, make sure you do not have a real illness by doing X-ray, scanner or IRM at your local hospital. In Taipei, the Cheng Hsin (振興) hospital in Tianmu has an excellent osteopathy service and also a rehabilitative medicine center (復健醫學中心). If a check-up has not found a serious medical problem, just do the following.


A     First go to your dentist and have a complete teeth check-up. Not many people know, but many joints and nerves problems can be related to a tooth cavity or decay.
B      If you seat at a desk all day, make sure you have a good seat, and watch your seating position.
C     When doing chores, watch your posture (spread your feet open when brushing your teeth, put a foot on a stool when carrying some load very high, squat with your legs to carry a heavy load – all these to avoid over bending or over arching your back). Also make sure you sleep on a medium-soft bed that can follow your body shape. Sleeping on a hard bed is very bad, and a popular misconception.


Exercise (5 minutes)

At least a few times a week, strengthen your abdominal belt.

  1. Series of 10 sit-ups. Keep your hands on your ears and never come down totally (always keep a small space between your shoulders and the floor – or bed).
  2. Series of 3-5 leg-lifts. Keep the upward position a few seconds each time. Lift both legs if you can (you may help by grabbing your butt with your hands).

You can increase the series, as your body gets stronger.

Bedtime stretching (2 minutes daily)

  1. Lying down in bed, lift both knees up, and with your hands around your neck, try to touch you knees with you front head. This will put your spine back in line. You can also roll gently forth and back when doing this exercise.
  2. Lift a knee on your chest (the other leg remains extended) and hold it tight with your hands. Push upward slowly using your leg muscles; then relax and repeat a few times, pulling your knee always a bit closer to your chest. Then pull your foot to your groin and push your knee out and down as far as you can. Relax and do the same with the other leg. When this has become easy, you can do the same, with you foot extended, using a belt to pull your foot upward.
  3. Lift both knees vertically, and then push them down on one side while keeping the opposite shoulder and hand flat on the bed. Bring them up again and do the same on the other side. When doing this, you will sometimes hear a cracking noise as some vertebrae get back into proper position.
  4. Extend both legs and relax your body, and then make small circles clockwise and counter-clockwise with your feet. It will relax all your legs muscles and make you feel sleepy.

Waking warm-up (half minute daily)

Never wake up and stand upwards with a strong body jolt. Instead lift up your knees above your belly and swing them gently from side to side a few times. This will awaken and energize your back muscles. Then end-up by rolling to the side whereas to end up sitting on the side of the bed without soliciting your abs.

Caution: never use too much strength when exercising. Keep doing this routine daily, and your back will never give you any more trouble.

Copyright 2006 - GZ.


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