I’ll be honest about this: I was torn when MizFit asked me if I would guestblog.
On one hand, since I adore MizFit and her blog, I am flattered and honored. On the other hand, when MizFit suggested the topic of my guestblog, I was sorry and saddened.
Let me explain: My topic is back pain, inspired by MizFit’s recent experience in “being a right angle.” (Remember her blog of last month?) I was so sorry and sad to hear that even MizFit has been hit by back pain.
Anyone who has suffered back pain knows that not only is it excruciating, but that it is inconvenient as well.
MizFit and I know each other partly through the online fitness community. One of my specialties is the link between exercise, fitness, and back pain. A few years ago, I was made a Partner to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness because of my writings on the topic.
Back in the 1990s, I was fortunate to know the doctor who in the 1950s pioneered the understanding of back pain, Dr. Hans Kraus. In fact, the image you see here is from a US News and World Report magazine article from the fifties (!) reporting on Hans’s findings that American children weren’t getting enough exercise – and this from half a century ago!
But that’s another story…
Back to back pain: In 1961, Hans secretly treated – and cured — President Kennedy in the White House for his debilitating back pain.
A little know secret was that during the Bay of Pigs Invasion – before Hans started treating Kennedy – Kennedy was flat on his back with back pain during the crisis that rocked the world. (In case you’re curious, Hans’s medical records of President Kennedy are archived in the Kennedy Presidential Library.)
Here’s the thumbnail of Hans’s findings on back pain: Most back pain is caused by weak or tight “postural muscles.” These are the muscles, as he defined it, that support the body – the muscles running essentially from our necks down to our knees.
Even someone in amazing, unbelievably great emotional and physical shape like MizFit can be hit by back pain – because the postural muscles need to be BOTH sufficiently strong (as undoubtedly MizFit’s are) but also sufficiently LOOSE AND FLEXIBLE (likely the issue with MizFit’s muscles…maybe she’s sitting too many hours in front of her computer writing her amazing blogs without moving).
Another major but related factor in back pain is stress. As we know, stress causes our muscles to tighten up. For good reason, as Hans liked to point out, there are popular phrases to describe people who give us stress: She’s a pain in the neck…or, He’s pain in the butt.
Stress by itself can cause back pain (by causing us to tighten our muscles). Or it can exacerbate existing back pain. Either way, it stinks.
But that brings us back to the importance of exercising to keep our muscles loose and flexible: We can lift weights, run marathons, take a ge-zillion exercise classes and have strong muscles…but that won’t mean our muscles are also loose and flexible.
So we can still get back pain even though we are in awesome shape (like MizFit). Strong muscles don’t compensate for tight muscles when it comes to back pain. To prevent back pain, we need BOTH strong muscles and loose muscles.
And this makes sense when we stop to think about this: When we’re on a long car ride or plane ride, or maybe sitting for hours at your computer, when we go to stand up, what happens? Our muscles have tightened. We often find ourselves hurting and rubbing some muscle part.
There are specific relaxation exercises we can do for our muscles but for starters, we need to move more and stretch regularly—whether taking breaks at the computer to stretch, or even walking up and down the aisles during a long plane flight.
‘Course it would ALSO help if we could cut down on stress! But we live in the real world and know that a lot of stress is outside our control: the economy…Federal deficits…spiraling mortgage payments … teenaged kids AND aging parents…wondering how long we’ve had the spot on our leg and the lump on our breast (surely just a mosquito bite)….whether Social Security will be solvent by the time we finally retire at age 84…and how the heck will Angelina and Brad manage all their kids as they grow older…
What we DO have control over, however, is how we deal with stress.
For starters, we can MOVE AND STRETCH!
MizFit Readers, I’d love to hear your comments and also offer up some simple and easy back exercises that Hans developed to get muscles loose and prevent back pain. (He used them on Kennedy and they worked!)
As MizFit says: please to hit me up in the comments!
A scuba diving instructor, shipwreck divemaster in the North Atlantic, skateboarder, snowboarder, and veteran rock climber, Susan EB Schwartz writes about fitness, exercise, and adventure.
A mom of two, in her prior life she was a biotech venture capital executive, won awards for her first book, Into the Unknown, was designated a partner to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and blogs at SchwartzSpot