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There’s a 3-part answer: why backs, why “X”, why active?
Why lower back pain?
Why is Active X Backs good for lower back pain and sciatica? Because I have specialised in back pain professionally for 28 years. I had a lumbar (L45) disc problem which started when I was an osteopathic student. It plagued me for about 5 years, and so I developed a strong personal interest in lower back pain and sciatica (it spread to sciatica after the first 2 years). Lower back pain is also extremely common, and so it seemed a worthwhile problem to invest myself in professionally. Lower back pain affects 4 in 5 people at some time in their lives, and just over a 5th of adults are affected at any given time. That’s 11million people in the UK affected by lower back pain on any given day. I figured that’s a lot of people needing help. Having personal experience of back pain and sciatica helps. Although we all suffer in our own unique way, I’m convinced that I can relate more easily to your pains having had similar problems myself – more easily than someone who hasn’t had significant pain.
What has the “X” got to do with lower back pain?
It sums up the postural antidote to modern living. You probably spend way too much time sitting, and – as I write this – I’m doing what so many people spend far too much time doing… Sitting with my arms in front of me, looking slightly down at my laptop as I type. Fortunately I was taught as a 16 year old to touch-type, not looking at the keyboard, and that helps. But, whether we’re typing on a laptop, scrolling/texting/tweeting/what-evering on our phones, driving, working at a desk, or reading a book or newspaper, we’ve become a species dominated by a posture that involves looking forwards and downwards, with our arms in-front of us. This results in protracted shoulders, and a sunken chest, stretching and inhibiting the action of our back and gluteal muscles, leading to inevitable weakness in the muscles designed to hold us up. Look around you – the chances are you’ll see chairs, and if there are people near you, the chances are that they are sitting in those chairs. Look at their postures. They are closed in, sagging forwards – hardly a spectacle of health and vitality.
How to do the “X”
The “X” posture is the reverse of this. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and roughly parallel (toes pointing forwards rather than out at 10 to 2). Reach your arms up to the sky, with palms facing towards one another and fingers pointing upwards. Take a deep breath in and as you do so, lift your ribs and chest up towards the sky. Poke your bottom out behind you a tiny bit, increasing the arch in the small of your back. As you breathe out, keep your ribs and chest up. Take another breath in and lift your chest higher. Breathe out again, keeping your chest up. And breathe in one last time, raising your chest up. As you breathe out and lower your arms to your sides, keep your chest elevated and shoulders square. Don’t allow yourself to return to your postural slumping.
Aside from using the Active X to trigger better posture, the “X”ing boosts your mood – I defy you not to feel better after you’ve done this. If you want to know why – I highly recommend Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on the connection between posture and mood, which at the latest count has over 50 million views, and is currently the 2nd most-watched TED talk.
Why “Active” for lower back pain?
Movement is life. Think about it. What animal alive doesn’t move? What happens when movement slows down? Think how much a typical toddler moves, a 20 year old, a 40 year old, 60 year old, 80 year old. Activity is an integral part of health and longevity. If you want to feel great and live longer, it’s hard to imagine that being likely when you’re physically inactive.
Also, many people with lower back pain fear movement. I have to tell you that this is the worst possible outcome. If you don’t move, your body will deteriorate. You will become weaker, your circulation will slow up and you’ll be more prone to all sorts of illnesses. It takes much longer to heal without appropriate movement. In fact, lack of movement can actually cause tissue to break down – ever heard of bed sores? It’s been claimed that “sitting is the new smoking“, and that physical inactivity is actually worse for you than smoking (depending on the levels of inactivity versus the number of cigarettes I suspect).
Few other high-achieving species have limited their movements to such a narrow range as many of us have. Most of us develop such tremendous physical capabilities as small children, and yet we lose them. Why? Because we don’t use them. Go to school and sit in a chair. Go to further education and sit in a chair. Go to work and sit in a chair, sit on a bus, sit on a train, sit in front of the TV, in front of a computer/laptop/ipad/phone.
Best advice for lower back pain
The rallying cry from Active X Backs (and my motto for over 20 years, since the publication of my first book on lower back pain with Gavin Hastings OBE) is “Use it or Lose it, but Don’t Abuse it” (UIOLIBDAI)! Do as much movement as you can that doesn’t hurt, otherwise you will lose those capacities whether today, next year or in 10 years. Using them is your only hope of retaining those capacities. For more on the importance of UIOLIBDAI, see “What’s the quickest way to fix my lower back pain / sciatica?”
So, there you have it – that’s why we are “Active X Backs”. But what are our other guiding principles?
Growing or Dying? You Decide
All things in nature are either growing or dying. Think about it. Nothing stands still in nature. This is perhaps most easily seen in plants with the changing of the seasons. But in all of us, it’s constantly going on at a cellular level too. Your bones, cartilage, muscles, the scaffolding that makes up your internal organs are all being re-modeled during your life – you are constantly regenerating, which affects how your back heals. There are little cells that build you up, and little cells that are breaking you down and then removing the waste. So, you have an opportunity for growth, or decline.
Aim for the moon – or the Plains of Happiness
You will probably have heard a version of W Clement Stone’s “Aim for the moon. If you miss you may hit a star.” On the Cliff of Pain model (see our animation on our home page) our equivalent is to aim for the Plains of Happiness, because if you reach the cliff top and stop then you’re only a puff of wind away from falling off again (remember 60% of lower back pains recur within 12 months). If you want to remain pain-free you have to address at least some of the risk factors. This is what it means to get back from the edge. We have a great way of helping you to feel great and live longer, which I hope you’ll consider as part of your long-term prevention plan. By reducing your risk of lower back pain and sciatica, you’ll also be working to reduce the risk of things that can kill you, like heart disease – it turns out heart disease and lower back pain have risk factors in common.
Be the change you wish to see in yourself
I’ve edited Ghandi’s original quote. It’s no good hoping to be healthier. You have to adopt the required behaviours. Hope rarely achieves much, but action does, particularly repeated action. If your hope doesn’t lead to action, it will remain only a hope. These are not empty words, but the observations of many of the greatest thinkers ever to have recorded their thoughts e.g. Oscar Wilde said “Action is the last resource of those who know not how to dream.” I can – and want to – help you to become healthier, but you have to do the work. This is why we created the Active X Health app – to coach you outside the consulting room. To nudge you, and to provide you with the resources that you need, close at hand. The app is there to help you establish healthy habits, by nudging you to take action daily on the things that matter most to you. If you want to improve your health, you’ll have to undertake healthier activities, and convert those into habits.
We live to help you live well. So, if you’re still with me, let’s aim to “Banish Back Pain, Feel Great, Live Longer”!!