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Healthy Habits Can Prevent Pain
What you do - and how you position your body - impacts the way you feel

Illustrations by ROEN KELLY

December 2016

Approximately 100 million adults in the United States experience chronic pain, according to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report. That often leads to missed work, doctor visits and physical therapy appointments.

Most of the time people need physical therapy due to repetitive poor postural habits or movement patterns, says Jes Davies, a physical therapist at Body Mechanics and a fitness instructor. “(It’s) that whole idea of just doing something improperly over and over again,” she says. “The unfortunate thing is it usually takes that repetition before there are signs that there’s something going on, so sometimes people have already created significant damage — and that’s where the whole chronic nature of things comes from.”

You can reduce your chances of developing pain by fostering healthy habits, such as making modifications to how you sit, stand and sleep, Davies says. For example, when sitting, as much as possible don’t cross your legs, slouch or sit so tall that you create tension in your upper back and neck. Find the proper seat height for your body, Davies advises, so that your body can be rested and grounded instead of tense.

“If you can picture blocks like children play with, our body should be like a bunch of blocks all stacked on each other,” she says, adding that our bodies become fatigued holding one position for too long even if we are in proper alignment. That’s why if you sit for long periods she suggests moving every 45 to 60 minutes to walk around or do the exercises here.

“Daily pain is not normal,” she says. “We think we wake up with our aches and pains, and it just has to be a part of what we do.” If you don’t make adjustments early on, she says, “you start to develop a lot of other compensatory things, so instead of just your back hurting, now you have back pain, shoulder pain and knee pain — and that happens a lot.”

3 Moves to Block Back Pain

More than half of Americans who report low back pain spend most of their workday in a seated position, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. Physical therapist Jes Davies recommends the following exercises to counteract the effects of sitting for long periods — that is, tightness in hip flexors and hamstrings, as well as tension in the neck and shoulders.

Straight-leg stretch

Lie with your back on the floor to feel its support and find a neutral spine. Bend your knees and allow your feet to rest on the floor comfortably.

Now lift one foot and loop a belt around the ball of the foot. With the belt in both hands, straighten that leg, keeping a slight bend to protect the knee, and feel a stretch in the back of the leg. Hold the stretch for several moments.

Then place your other foot into the strap and rest the first foot back on the floor. Repeat the stretch with the second leg.

Lunge with chair

Stand facing a sturdy chair. Bend one knee and lift your foot, placing it on the chair seat. Bend forward at the hip so that your hands can grip the back of the chair (or arm rests) to help you ease into a lunge, making sure that your knee does not go past your foot.

Then engage your core muscles and lift your chest slightly so that you’re not hunched over your bent knee. Hold for several moments.

Then carefully lift out of the stretch, finding both feet back on the floor. Repeat the stretch with the second leg.

Upper-body wall stretch

Stand with your back to a wall and begin to feel supported by the wall. Then find proper alignment with feet firmly planted: bend your knees slightly so that your leg muscles are engaged, use your core muscles to neutralize your pelvis, and feel your shoulder blades touching the wall.

Then lift your arms and bend them into a goal-post shape. Tuck your chin slightly and grow tall through the crown of your head to find a comfortable position for your neck. Hold for several moments.


This story ran in the December 2016 issue of: