The numbers are staggering – one in five – as to how many of us suffer from back pain. In a recent worldwide, back pain is the cause which most often disables us from enjoying daily living while causing many of our work absences too. As we age, the poor postures, weak core muscles, and poor use of our bodies or what we call biomechanics catch up with us.
Medication provides temporary relief from back pain while prevention and true relief from lower back pain means we need to be more aware of how we use our body and strengthening our core muscles.
Tai chi is low impact, slower in motion and pain free exercise with huge gains in strengthening the stabilizer muscles of our body’s core as reported in Harvard Health Publications.
When we understand the typical reasons for back pain, we can avoid back muscle strains by strengthening our bodies so these maneuvers are less likely to affect us.
Tai Chi Movements Reinforce Proper Posture and Support for the Spine
You may be practicing poor standing or sitting habits which lead to poor posture. Do you stand or sit with rounded shoulders, stand with your gut sticking out, slouch when sitting, lean on one leg while standing, stick your chin forward when typing at a computer? Having any of these and other poor postures causes overuse of some muscles and under use of other muscles.
To return our bodies to proper alignment again, we need to strengthen the muscles weakened by poor posture which are typically the stabilizer muscles of the body. In tai chi, alignment and posture is fundamental to every movement. Maintaining the 5 bows structure in our body is one of the key requirements throughout all the movements. The 5 Bows structure is something each person works to maintain not only when standing still but through a wide variety of motions. By doing this we re-train our body for proper posture through a spectrum of movements and poses which allows these new found postural habits to carry over into our daily lives.
Tai Chi is a Core Work Out for the Stabilizer Muscles
The 5 Bows structure creates a gentle stretch of our core muscles as well as joints of the vertebrae or spine.
Stretching and strengthening core muscles is necessary for a healthy and happy spine. Tai chi engages and demands a wide range of muscles to sustain, extend and contract through a wide range of open and closed body positions. Unlike power muscles, core / stabilizer muscles don’t need to be bulked up with heavy weights used to isolate a specific muscle. Instead, they need to be challenged in a wide range of positions as a group of muscles.
This is exactly why the slow sustained motions of tai chi are so effective not only for working out our stabilizing core muscles but for burning many calories by using multiple muscles and muscle groups simultaneously.
Practice with Proper Techniques to Avoid Back Injuries
Many back injuries or strains are caused by bending our backs and then twisting, or bending our backs and then lifting. The core muscle work out of tai chi improves the strength of not only core but the lower body muscle groups as well so that we are better able to bend or rotate appropriately at the pelvis instead of twisting or hyper-extending the back.
The 5 Bows structure maintains our strength, eliminates stress on our joints or vertebrae while engaging the many stabilizer muscles. By training our bodies to leverage the full support of core muscles, we’re able to avoid many back injuries and live pain free.
Mindfulness & Body Awareness Engages the Body Purposefully
Very often we hurt our backs doing something simple because we are not paying attention to what we’re doing. Tai chi practice trains our minds to focus on movement. Our balance improves, our footwork increases in sensitivity and our muscles become ingrained with new movement patterns due to slower sustained motions which culminate in deep learning results.
Not only is focusing in on our bodies and letting go of our daily stresses great for our mental health but unconsciously, our mind and body become more consciously connected when we move in a highly conscious and purposeful way. After a while, whether we think about it or not, our bodies will use these new connections and patterns unconsciously during daily routines.
Harvard Medical lists tai chi as one of the top exercises for improving balance and proprioception. Proprioception is the awareness of our body in space. Awareness is key to avoiding falls and unwanted twists or turns to our back muscles.
Choose Sustained Lower Intensity Exercise to Improve Core Muscles
Many people remain physically inactive for long periods of time and then engage in sudden bursts of workout. While there may be some value in power burst work outs for weight loss, regular exercise is best for overall health.
When we’ve been sedentary for long periods of time, burst work outs can be a recipe for injuries and muscle strains. Weak or disengaged core muscles can result in back pain from these sudden bursts of physical activity. If you want to engage in burst workouts, start by assuring your body is fit enough to engage in sudden and intense work outs. A good tai chi routine of practicing 2 or 3 times a week is a great basic fitness program or cross-training program for athletes who regularly participate in powerful and highly explosive sports.
It may not provide the burn of a weight training session or an aerobic workout, but after a few weeks, you’ll wonder where you got the sudden burst of power with the same old training program or daily routines.
How does tai chi help to prevent further back pain?
Let’s review the typical core muscles. They include our diaphragm, pelvic muscles, lower abdominal muscle as well as our small spine muscles. These are not the muscles we think of when we think of working out to get stronger which is why improving our core strength is somewhat elusive for many of us.
Tai chi involves relaxation of the abdominal muscles which promotes deep, natural breathing to strengthen the diaphragm; focus on initiating movement from our core known as dan tian in tai chi which strengthens abdominal and pelvic floor muscles; and finally, movements which reach up, down, and rotate around the centre axis to stretch and strengthen our small spine muscles in all directions.
With a regular tai chi work out, gain stretch and strength to avoid injuries and relieve back pain, build body awareness as well as improved body mechanics so daily routines remain enjoyable, relaxing and injury free. Tai chi is undoubtedly one of the best exercises for prevention and relief of back pain.