This Is Why Your Back Hurts


As you’re reading this, whether sitting or standing (although standing is best as you will soon see), think about lengthening your spine as much as possible. In fact, imagine you have a big rubber band attached to the crown of your head (that’s the back, top part) that is lifting your spine longer, toward the sky. Now pull your belly in slightly and take a deep breath through the sides and backs of your ribs.  Exhale and feel your rib cage squeeze the air out as you continue to reach the crown of your head upward. Repeat.

Congratulations, you’ve just reverse-aged your spine! And, if you continue to practice the above, you will prevent back pain and delay degeneration for years.

That notion of lengthening your spine, known clinically as “axial elongation,” relieves pressure from the discs in your back that tend to bear all the weight and pressure. As you know, the intervertebral discs are the connective tissue in your spine that help build, support, and absorb shock. When we lengthen our spines, the everyday forces are more evenly distributed, therefore, our backs are better protected from injury and wear and tear.

Body position also affects the forces and pressure our spinal discs endure every day. Did you know that standing with good posture is actually better on your back than sitting with good posture?  In fact, standing with bad posture applies the same pressure on your spine as sitting with good posture. I bet that got you out of your seat!  When we lie supine or stand, the forces on our discs are less than when we sit or practice bad body mechanics. This is one explanation for why you’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” See this chart below (I know, it is totally archaic and there is likely an updated version out there, but I first saw this original chart in PT school and it has sentimental value!). This chart shows body position and the resulting pressures on the spinal discs, as reported by AL Nachemson.


What can you take home from this article? Our discs’ health depends on how we hold ourselves, and in what position. The more support your spine has, the less pressure on your discs, and the less risk of back injury and degeneration. If you already have back pain, you are not alone! It is one of the most common ailments. Pilates will help teach you how to hold your spine in ways that not only help reduce the risk of re-injury but also allow the spine to heal.  Join us for these upcoming workshops and specialized series:


Pilates Fundamentals with Dr. Megan Brown (me!)

This one-time technique workshop will focus on spinal stability and low back healing. You’ll find your deep abdominals! Join us Saturday, December 16th at 4:30pm

This article was originally published in Alexandria Stylebook: