Back pain is a common complaint and the reason so many Mums find MUTU. Here’s we’ll focus on improving back pain by looking at alignment in this post. What is alignment? How does it affect back pain? How do you start to make changes to alignment?
Alignment and back pain – the connection
Alignment is the way we are structurally ‘stacked’ internally, from head to toe. The terms posture and alignment are often used interchangeably. They are related but not quite the same thing. Posture is how we look from the outside, but alignment is how we are from within. An example is what many of us know as ‘good posture’, with our shoulders back and chest out. While this looks ‘like good posture’, it actually lifts our rib cage out of alignment. In turn this places strain and pressure on the rest of our kinetic chain (i.e. how parts of the body act as a system of chain links during movement). Yes, good posture matters, but good alignment matters more,
Improving back pain is a multilayered issue. Alignment is how you are standing, sitting, and moving. Our way of modern living does us few favours when it comes to naturally encouraging good alignment. We drive everywhere, sit in chairs way too much, and when we do move, the way we move isn’t truly ‘natural’. We even sit down and strain, rather than squat and let it happen when we go to the bathroom. We wear shoes (including sports shoes) that pitch our bodies forward and force our muscles and joints to compensate unnaturally. We suck in our stomach and clench our butt. As a result, our alignment has shifted from what is natural and optimal and often results in increased aches and pains, back pain being one of them.
Alignment check points for improving back pain
Alignment matters from the end of your toes to the top of your head. Our body is a connected, complex, and amazing system. Looking into how you currently carry and hold your body throughout your day is a really important step to improving back pain. It can get overwhelming to focus on every point from your head to your toes. So we are going to just focus on two alignment points that really matter for mums especially, and for back pain. These are: rib cage alignment and pelvis alignment.
Alignment pointers for improving back pain
Your rib cage houses important organs and has various connection points through cartilage and ligaments. One of those connection points is to the thoracic vertebrae in your back. When your rib cage is thrust forward (think of that ‘chest out’ cue) it places strain on the entire core structure and especially the lower back. This strain will cause increasing back pain that lingers. Also, when you thrust your rib cage forward this often becomes your point of movement instead of your shoulders . This constant moving of the ribcage and inactivity of the shoulders leads to shoulder mobility issues (think rounded, tight shoulders). Your shoulders were meant to be moved and used, make sure your rib cage is not compensating and taking over for them. To give you an example of what this looks like in daily living – next time when you have to reach up to get something out of a just barely too tall shelf, check in with what you are using to move and stretch to reach that shelf. Are you lifting and thrusting the rib cage forward to help propel your arms up, or are you keeping your ribs down and using your shoulders to reach up?
Your pelvis also houses important organs and alignment of your pelvis really matters when it comes to pelvic floor, core, and back health. Too many of us are guilty of being ‘butt tuckers’, If you tuck your butt under all the time the muscles of the pelvic floor eventually shortens to compensate. Becoming tight and weak, just like the shoulders in relation to rib cage alignment. This tucking affects the spine as well, leading to aches and pains. The opposite issue arises when you tilt and arch your pelvis too far forward (when you stick your butt out) – affecting both the pelvic floor and the back as well. You want your pelvis to ‘live’ in neutral. To find out how to find your neutral pelvis watch this video:
To sum up
Improving back pain through alignment can feel overwhelming, especially as you look to make changes to positively improve it. Don’t feel that you need (or should!) make all the changes at once. Muscle memory is powerful, and you may have been carrying yourself the same way for years, it will take some time to shift. But implement changes slowly and know that those small changes will have big impact.