Bracing for back pain management

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Back pain is a common complaint we see in our clinic. And while we're well versed in helping you reduce your symptoms with our little magic needles, we know there's a lot people can do to prevent back pain through posture and movement. That's why we enlisted our fitness friend, Hannah Wydeven, to write a series of blog posts about back pain. You can read pt. 1 of this series here.

Hannah is the owner of Solcana Fitness in the Seward Neighborhood of Minneapolis (where both Amy and Kim work out AND offer group acupuncture!). Hannah has been a fitness coach since 2010, and works with all types of bodies, specializing in helping womxn and queer folks gain confidence in the gym. You can check out her work at www.solcanafitness.com. 


In the first installment of the Your Beautiful Back series, we talked about pelvic tilt, and the effect the position of your pelvis can have on the health of your back. This week, we are focusing on how to appropriately brace your core to support your spinal health. 

Bracing is when you activate specific muscles in your core to keep your spine in a neutral position while you move. It’s something we learn to do as kids as we grow and build our body awareness, but as adults our movement becomes limited, our body awareness and abilities may decrease, and suddenly the brace is forgotten like an elementary school Tamagotchi. 

Learning how to brace your core appropriately can help improve the health of your back, pelvic floor, shoulder, neck and even relieve secondary pains like headaches and joint pain. How? When your back is supported and in a neutral position, your body will sit in natural alignment, immediately reducing points of compression and shearing stress. 

So how do you actually brace correctly?

Stand up wherever you are and let’s give it a shot:

  • Start by relaxing your arms to your sides, turning your palms out toward the side, rolling your shoulders back and sliding your shoulder blades down into your back pockets.
  • Squeeze your butt together like you are trying to crack a walnut between your cheeks. Notice how your pelvis tucks under just slightly.
  • Lift your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor muscles are like an elevator of muscle stretching from the front of your body to the back, supporting your bladder and other organs. When you lift, it will feel the same as when you are stopping a stream of urine.
  • Exhale as if you are trying to fog a window aggressively. When you do this, you will feel like your lowest abdominal muscles are zipping up and contracting. It feels like you are trying to hold a grape in your belly button.
  • Now, when you inhale, do so by breathing into your diaphragm, right below your rib cage, without losing the tension in your lower abdominal. Continue breathing into your diaphragm.

You will notice that when you are in a braced position, your body feels more supported and controlled. You may have instant pain reduction, or even grow an inch or two like I did!

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Practice the brace a few times, with different degrees of intensity. The intensity of the brace will vary depending on the job you need to do. Just standing at your desk? Bracing at 10-20% effort is probably enough for this simple task. Lifting a couch to help a friend move? Try a 70-80% brace for this longer effort under duress. Performing a heavy back squat? You will need as close to 100% as you can get for this level of exertion. 

Let’s try a second test. Come down to your hands and knees. Extend one arm and the opposite leg. Try both sides. Now, in that same tabletop position, activate a strong brace and repeat the same exercise on both sides. The major difference you will notice is that your low back stays in a neutral position, forcing your glutes and upper back to engage in order for your limbs to move. When you move this way without bracing first, there is an exaggerated motion in your lumbar spine, putting undue pressure on your low back. 

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So far we have explored two simple ways that you can change your movements patterns to change your back health and prevent or reduce pain. If you practiced your pelvic neutrality last time, you are ready to go to add this new layer of appropriate core control. When you hold your core tight, do you find yourself standing straighter? Feeling stronger? I sure hope so. 

Next time we will talk about thoracic spine and shoulder pain. Tune in then!

Like what you read? Check out more at www.solcanafitness.com/blog. Interested in working out with us? Check out our upcoming [Em]Power Strength Series, Sep 4th - Oct 4th, 4:30 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

*The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

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