TREATING BACK PAIN USING JUST POSTURE
N.T. Thẩn - Exryu Toronto (*)
on the most conservative estimates, one in 4 people have lower
back pains at some point in their lives. By using the materials
referred to in this guide to practice good postures, back pain
sufferers should gain significant relief or total cure. For those
who do not suffer back pains, even though it’s not as critical,
much is gained by assuming good postures, or at least by avoiding
terribly bad postures.
attaching 2 U-tube videos that teach good posture, one is about
standing posture, and the other, sitting.
to treat Kyphosis: preventing and correcting the dowager’s hump
Sitting: the good, the bad and the ugly (1 hour)
Applying the instructions in the 2 videos studiously might be, in
some cases, enough for getting rid of pains. But the books listed
below offer more thorough instructions and might be required when
the videos alone are not enough. There should be many more books
about treating back pains, but I have studied only these four
books and it was sufficient to overcome my very bad sciatica 3
--Kathleen Porter, Natural Posture for Pain-free Living: The
Practice of Mindful Alignment
--Esther Gokhale, 8 Steps to a Pain-free Back
--Stuart McGill, Back Mechanic
Stern, Ending Back Pain: 5 Powerful Steps to Diagnose,
Understand and Treat Your Ailing Back
first two books are exclusively for training toward “good”
postures (thus the books are similar to the videos, but with
richer details). The postures taught in these two books are very
similar to each other. The differences are in the
explanations/illustrations as how to learn the (“good”) posture,
and where the emphasis should be. As such, studying one book
should suffice, even though studying both gives deeper
understanding of posture, and therefore is even of more help.
shows how we can maintain good postures while performing daily
activities such as: tie shoes, stand in front of the sink to brush
teeth, to wash dishes, lean to take laundry in and out of
machines, push the vacuum cleaner, sit in the morning (sit on the
toilet seat), bend down to pick up small objects, bend down to
lift heavy objects, open heavy doors, get up from lying position,
etc. McGill calls these habits "spine hygiene"--just as flossing &
brushing teeth are oral hygiene. His advice is condensed in the
analogy he uses, “Don’t pick the scabs”, meaning do not re-injure
yourself with movement patterns or postures that cause pains—let
the injuries heal. The book has sections on training to achieve
athlete-caliber (i.e. strong) body and back. (The author has
fourth book, Ending Back Pain, represents a comprehensive
discussion of all cases (causes) of, and treatment options for
back pains. It aims to help the readers avoiding bad “paths” to a
treatment course--paths that lead to worse back problems. (Jack
Stern is a neurosurgeon.)
Before practicing with the videos
Regarding the videos, before you practice with them I would like
to add some suggestions, gained from my understanding and
Firstly, make sure that whatever the videos suggest, if it BEGINS
to hurt, you should stop doing it; or, if you do not want to stop
all together, moderate it, or temporarily stop it and try it some
weeks/months later when your pains lessen (hopefully).
principle, always investigate the pains (especially new ones),
identify what moves hurt and avoid these moves to see if the pain
stops/improves. Note that sometimes it doesn't hurt right away,
but it hurts after some days/weeks of practicing or doing certain
activities. So be aware of that too.
advice applies to all actions/moves in your daily life (not only
when exercising): when some actions cause pains, it is important
to stop doing it, if possible. When it’s not possible to stop,
try to come up with a different way to do the tasks (see S.
McGill), or take rests (i.e. to pause) between repetitive
movements; movements such as chopping, scrubbing, standing for a
long time, bending repeatedly, etc.. It is smart to take
rests/pauses before the pains become so noticeable/severe—then it
will be more difficult to treat it. For example, as advised in
Back Mechanic: if you know that walking for 5 minutes causes
pains, plan your route and walk for 4 minutes at a time.
Secondly, the postures suggested in the videos will not feel
"natural" to most of us when we first try; but they ARE proven
good postures for a vast majority of cases. However, if
these postures don’t work for you, needless to say, you should
endeavor to investigate other ways to help with your pains. You
may need to see a back doctor; but don’t rush to one, check
Ending Back Pain, on how to find a good back doctor.
Lastly, while assuming good postures or doing the exercises (to be
introduced in a moment), try to relax. Relaxing helps toward
avoiding muscle strain, while achieving more in anything you try
to achieve. To relax, in my simple view, means not using
(i.e. let loose) any muscles that are not needed for the actions
you are performing. (It will be an advice easier said than done—it
Keeping the habit of good postures
are one in the vast majority, where the postures in the attached
videos do not cause pains, then it’s a very good news for you.
“Unfortunately”, you need to practice using these postures
“religiously” to see the improvement.
Practice often is key.
beginning, your postures are most likely not “perfect”, but it
really suffices to assume/use the newly learned postures (even
though they are not perfect) as often as you can. This is a
direct relationship: the days that I assume good postures more
often are the days that my sciatica feels better, and vice versa!
It looks like I need to consciously maintain good posture
forever. I envy those for them good postures are second nature!
best way to remind yourself to maintain good postures as often as
possible is to follow an exercise/fitness program on a video (a
15' program, twice a day is perhaps sufficient for most cases).
You can choose any program suitable to your ability. The choice
of a program is not so important because the main purpose of doing
the exercise routine is to dedicate that 15' for applying your
postures (learned from the attached videos). For example
when the video shows a kick, you first check your posture really
well, maintain that bone alignment, then you kick; the same with
raising arms, turning heads, etc. In other words, you use the
program as a “frame” to practice your learned postures; any other
benefits, related to cardio-vascular or flexibility are of
secondary importance during this exercise. Do not sacrifice good
postures for speed (number of repetitions): I find I finish one
repetition when the video completes 3- 4 reps.
“Focused” exercises serve both as
traning for good postures while we are doing the exercises, and
reminder that we should be aware of our postures for the rest of
the day when: driving, sitting on office chairs working, sitting
of standing doing kitchen work, standing waiting in line in
grocery stores, waiting for the bus, etc.
Stop on tracks to adjust posture.
addition to dedicating time for “focused” exercises, you can try
this: while going about with your daily activities, the minute you
feel your back is stiff, or you walk as if waddling (because you
are NOT able maintaining good posture), just stop on tracks (if
possible), and assume your good posture, or do a few moves from
your exercise program, just for one minute or two. People
do this all the time: they stretch their back, their shoulders.
But I propose that you do it in a bit more “organized” fashion (or
should I say “postural fashion”?), as just explained.
for more hours than we stand, and I find that I absolutely need
chairs that support good sitting postures. This is clearly
discussed in both books, by K. Porter & E. Gokhale, respectively.
They recommend using a “wedge” (to put on chairs—this is not the
one you put on the back to lean your back against it) to provide
support when sitting. Even though wholeheartedly agreeing with
that, I found that I need a decent chair to start with, because if
the chair is “wrong”, a wedge is only a “half-way” solution, and
in “fixing” back pains, you need a “total” solution, meaning that
you need to avoid any postures/actions that cause any
pains, big or small (because some pains start as small, being just
a discomfort, but balloon into big pains, much harder to treat).
me, who had a crippling sciatica, I had to replace 2 chairs and
make four wedges of suitable inclines (“slopes”) for my different
chairs. The four wedges are for: the seat in the car, the office
chair, the sofa and one “travel” wedge for rides in public
Bringing along a wedge when riding in public transit is such a
nuisance that at one point, when I thought my sciatica was so much
better, I stopped using the wedge (even though I sat in a way that
largely kept the pelvic at a healthy angle). For a few weeks it
seemed alright, but, no, insidious pains snuck back. At first I
didn’t know why the pains were back, but one day, when I just sat
down on a seat on a bus, at the very moment of touching the seat,
I noticed a small pain, which lingered on throughout the
ride. Then I realized that this experience had started weeks ago
whenever I rode the transit, but it escaped my awareness (or may
be I didn’t want to acknowledge it) and it only became more
noticeable as the weeks went by. Needless to say, I reverted to
using my wedge on buses and trains, and created a new motto (for
myself, of course) “Don’t leave home without the wedge”!
might add that in addition to wedges to sit on, when at home I
also use footrests so that when I sit, my legs (feet) are not
dangling. You probably know that dangling legs (when sitting for
a long time) is not good for your back.
commonly suggested that 80% of back pains are "curable", at least
manageable. This includes the cases where back pains go away on
their own or with minimum intervention. The point I would like to
make here is, when the pains does not go away on their own, and a
treatment course is called for, without exception, good
postures are the single most crucial element. The two “gurus”
of postures, Porter and Gokhale cannot give enough credits to good
postures for back health, and beyond. For McGill and Stern, even
though their books are not exclusively about postures, these
authors place good postures on top of their lists for treating
back pains (even though they do not point to the specific postures
advanced by the two posture “gurus”).
Back Mechanic (p. 74), the number 1 in the list of things that
one should do when having back pains is to “Eliminate the cause
of pain and find pain-free postures (lying, sitting,
number 2 in the list is to “Develop posture and
movement patterns that enable you to function pain-free.”
Back Pain”(p.228), the number 1 is “Maintaining good
aware that there can be OTHER good postures that I am not aware
of. However the postures advanced in the first two books (and the
attached videos) have worked for thousands of people, and they
certainly have worked for me.
postures not only help with back pains, but should help with
shoulder and neck pains as well. In addition you can probably see
for yourself that they create room in the chest and abdominal
cavities, allowing, respectively, heart & lungs and the digestive
systems function better. So good postures are beneficial even if
you don't have back issues.
venture to say that if one wants balance (stability) and power,
one needs to start with posture. Watching sports, I notice that
invariably the athletes have the “ideal” postures (postures that
are advanced by Porter & Gokhale). The only exception I find is
with speed skaters who “round” their shoulders (and bending body
forward), but this is for reducing friction against the wind.
Lastly, good postures go hand-in-hand with confidence and, in no
small measures, physical attractiveness in people of all ages.
thought of stopping at the above paragraph, but that would mean my
report is incomplete. So let’s cover the whole story, once and for
about 2 years of practicing good postures as often as I could, my
back was feeling, I would say, 90%, better. But still usually at
the end of the day, my pains creep up (most likely because of bad
postures during the day). If at that time I do not feel like
doing the 15’ fitness exercises again, I use a combination of two
exercises that are performed lying down (on a not-so-hard
surface), are totally pleasant, and could give instant relief.
These very simple exercises prove to be surprisingly effective in
some cases, but bring no results in other cases (though they will
cause no harm). I strongly believe it is worth a try.
first method is called the MELT method, explained in a book
entitled MELT Method, by Sue Hitzmann. I chose, however,
to follow only one exercise (notably the “rest assess”) in the
book. Rest assess involves mentally assessing any tensions/pains
in your body, but not taking any actions to relieve them (please
refer to the book for full instructions).
second method, “relaxing tension without stretching” is from a
very short U-tube video of that title, by Feldenkrais (video is
not attached). I also use only the first exercise in the video.
these two in the following sequence, where the sequence is
minutes of “rest assess”
minutes of “relaxing muscles without stretching”
minutes of “rest assess” (again)
resort to these two methods to relieve pains, as needed. I
believe practicing good posture is an indispensable part of
treating and curing back pains in the long term, however.
that all the methods brought up in this guide are non-invasive,
painless, and very difficult to cause any harm. However it does
take time to gradually “perfecting” our posture, and
perhaps the more demanding “ingredient” of the program is
persistence. Persistence to apply the learned posture nearly all
the time--even when results are not shown sometimes months later.
This persistence is something that (only?) pains will be able to
force on us, but improvements will make it happen, joyfully.
been a long road to recovery in my case, and it has not been an
“even”, or linear, road: two steps forward, one step back.
Eventhough long and bumpy, this road is heavenly good compared to
the “alternative road” (remaining in pains). So I am forever
grateful that there is such a road. These days, by very best
efforts to keep good postures all day long (efforts that are
successful only partially), I can walk anywhere I want (with rests
in between); I can do whatever I want (but not lifting heavy
weights): I got back what I feel is my dignity (even though one
should not loose dignity just because (s)he lost independence);
and it’s priceless.
last paragraphs summarize the various activities/exercises that I
was or am doing.
beginning when my pains were crippling, I coped with it the best I
could, which was between rests and minimum movements (but moved, I
did). I did not know any of the materials that I eventually knew
and have referred to in this “guide”. As my pains improved--ever
so little every month (not every day, not even every week)—I was
able to take on more exercises. The process of learning and
practicing that has led to my current, much better state, involves
--Learning the “technique” of good postures as taught by Porter,
Gokhale, and McGill.
--Throughout the day, as much as possible, use only the good
an exercise (fitness) program of my choice at least 15’ a day,
keeping good postures when doing it.
I feel some pains, if I have only 1 or 2 minutes, and I cannot lie
down, I stop on track in whatever I’m doing, and “fix”/adjust my
postures (or do a few moves in the fitness program).
--Whenever I have some pains, if I have 10-15’ and can lie down, I
do my routine of rest assess (from the MELT method) and “relaxing
Than Nguyen, June
* Bị chú của
ERCT : Chị Nguyễn Thị Thần - Exryu 64 (Todai - Hitotsubashi-dai)