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Banishing Backache



I’ve got a weak back.
How long have you had it?
Oh, about a week back.
(The Three Stooges)

There is nothing like comfortably walking straight as a ramrod, proud to be bipedal. There are two ways that I can experience this. One is via a visit to a good chiropractor. The other is to use the techniques below.

(Important caution: Common sense dictates the need of genuine care in dealing with any back problem. Consult a medical, osteopathic or chiropractic doctor before proceeding with these, or any other self-care approaches.) 

First, you can try some bed stretches. Here’s how I do them:

Method One
Sit in the middle of the bed, legs straight out in front of you. Then, from the hips up, pivot to the right as far as you reasonably can. Now lie back. You should be shaped like a boomerang, mate. And you will feel a profound “pulling” sensation in your lower back, hip and upper leg. Relax and stay in that position for five minutes by the clock. Repeat the process to the left. 

Method Two
Lie across the bed face down.  Put your feet over the edge and grab the mattress with your toes. You can do this even if you are not an orangutan. While keeping your feet together, pivot your upper body to the right as far as comfortable. You now will look like the other side of a boomerang. Using your arms, give it an extra stretch further to the right and hold it for a minute or two. Relax, and repeat for the left side.

Both of these techniques work best if you done first thing in the morning and last thing before going to sleep at night.

And when you sleep, do so on a good, firm (but not hard) mattress. If you cannot afford a good mattress, consider asking Santa for a futon (a thick floor mat). You can also try putting a board under your lousy mattress for the time being.

Try regular (or even irregular) practice of hatha yoga postures. Especially helpful are the ones known as the “plow” and the hurdle-stretch.

The “plow” begins with a shoulder-stand on a well-carpeted floor. That’s just a head stand with your arms supporting you. I cannot do a real headstand, but I can do this. From the shoulder stand, let the weight of your legs pull your feet to the ground. You will look and feel like the number “6” tipping over that way -> ->.

Hurdle stretches are easy to do. Sit cross legged wearing loose fitting clothing. Extend one leg out at a natural 45 degree angle from your hips. Reach down that leg as far as you are able, drop your head, and reach a bit further. If you manage to reach your ankles, grab them and relax.  If you can’t, grab what part of your leg that you can, and relax. Hold with a slight stretch for the count of 25. Repeat with the other leg.

Lose excess weight.  If you are 22 pounds (10 kg) overweight, that is like carrying a big economy-sized bag of dog food around with you all day.  44 pounds is two big bags of dog food. All that weight pulls on your back and sits on your sacroiliac. Be realistic; it has to go.  If you cut down your daily calorie intake by just 120 calories (a puny amount and you know it), you will lose a pound a month. If you do any exercise at all, you will triple the loss easily. Do not scoff at a monthly 3 pound weight loss. That’s 36 pounds in a year.

Really want to feel great? Do these back-building, soreness-squelchin’ weight-liftinexercises:

This is as easy as it sounds: simply shrug your shoulders. . .  with a dumbbell weight in each hand. You can usually use quite a lot of weight for this.  Beginners may want to start with 5 or 8 pounds per hand. I use 25 pounders, but then I’ve been doing this for a while. Your basic up-and-down shrugs can be complimented with shoulder rotations forward together and then backward together. Also, try alternate-shoulder up and down shrugs. These moves really loosen up the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

Use a MUCH lighter weight for these. A “fly” is like a theatrical, expansive yawn with weights in your hands. Another way to describe flys is you look like a large bird stretching its wings, or Batman displaying his entire cape. Stand where you have a lot of free airspace around you and try some. By varying positions (one arm reaching up, the other down; both up or both down; reaching behind you backhanded; etc) you can de-stress the entire upper half of your body to an extent you might not have thought possible.

Lie down on a carpeted floor in the good old “knee-bent for sit-ups” position. But there’s a twist: let both your knees fall to one side and do your crunches side-saddle.  To an equal number with the knees to the other side, of course. By bringing your knees nearly up to your chin, or extending your bent legs to one side or the other, you will feel a lower back benefit in addition to that most satisfying spare-tire-reduction that crunches are known for.

(More on exercise at  and

Use a “MA” roller
A “MA” roller is a wooden self-massage tool shaped something like a large, skinny thread spool. The twin raised sections towards the center deeply massage the back to either side of the spinous processes of each vertebrae of your back. The sensation it produces resembles a full-back acupressure treatment by a barefooted lover. With patient, regular use, you can actually feel back bones slip into place. I have no financial connection with the manufacturer, distributor or retailer of this product. You can purchase one by way of an internet search, or visit to your local health food store. Priced at about $40, they cost about the same as a single visit to the chiropractor. I have had mine for over 20 years and use it every night before going to sleep.
Fast, Totally Free, Utterly Effortless, Back-Friendly Advice:

Ladies, stop wearing high heels. Nothing wrecks your posture and all the muscles and bones associated with it like walking around on your toes all day.

Lift, shovel or rake with your “other” side.  This really works. I learned it watching my Dad, who one day picked up a large TV set with his left hand. His back went “out” and he was in considerable discomfort until he reached down and picked up the same TV with the other hand and put his back “in” again. I used to get a backache after snow shoveling, a common event around these parts (I live just south of Canada). Then, I started shoveling backwards. By this, I mean that I reversed the position of my hands on the shovel, and dug to the other side, and threw with the other shoulder. This was weird at first, and I could only move a quarter of my usual load. But practice makes perfect, and now I have forgotten which side is my “other” side, as I can move a ton of snow (literally) without injury. If you have no snow to move (you lucky person you), may I mention that this technique applies to shoveling dirt, concrete, manure, or anything else you have to toss about.

Wear that purse or backpack on the “other” shoulder. Same idea as above.

Make a point to periodically notice your sitting posture, whether working, reading or watching TV.  Can you improve it? Of course you can, once you become aware of it.

I know an unusually large number of chiropractors. This may be because I used to teach at a chiropractic college. One of my very best friends, Rochester’s Dr. Kenneth Hack, is an excellent chiropractor. He has “straightened out” my whole family for many years and he is great at it.  But Ken lives too far from me for quick visits every time by back bugs me. So, I have learned how to take care of it myself. I don’t care much for exercise, but I exercise anyhow. Ken told me I haveta, and I found out he was right. Good chiropractors teach you how to not need them. So now I do all the stuff I discussed above almost daily, because when I’m done, I feel terrific.

You can take this considerably further if you want to. 25 years ago, I learned a gentle first-aid technique, Spontaneous Release by Positioning, developed by Lawrence Hugh Jones, D. O.  (Step-by-step instructions at ). 

Backache surely is a common ailment, perhaps one of the most common of all chronic health problems. It is certainly one of the chief on-the-job time-loss injuries. Most persons will suffer backache at least some time in their lives. But the procedures described above are powerful steps you can take to prevent, and to relieve, backache.  

I used to have back trouble.  Now I don’t.

Copyright 2001 and prior years by Andrew W. Saul.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


AN IMPORTANT NOTE:  This page is not in any way offered as prescription, diagnosis nor treatment for any disease, illness, infirmity or physical condition.  Any form of self-treatment or alternative health program necessarily must involve an individual's acceptance of some risk, and no one should assume otherwise.  Persons needing medical care should obtain it from a physician.  Consult your doctor before making any health decision. 

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