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An immovable feast

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We’ve not only been built to move; like a dog needing to be walked every day, our bodies need to move in order to function properly.

Somewhere during the 20th century, though, we forgot about this essential purpose and designed lifestyles in which hours of movement punctuated by short bouts of stillness have been replaced by hours of stillness – at a desk, in our daily commute, during evenings in front of the TV – punctuated by a few furious rounds of movement.

Modern life and the advent of electronic devices have encouraged children and adults to stay glued to their seats and screens at school or on the job in the daytime – and then to their sofas and more screens at night.

We’re like racehorses tethered,
day after day, within a tiny stable, trying to figure out why we’ve forgotten how to run.

Small wonder that our bodies – and specifically our backs – are complaining loudly. Indeed, 80 per cent of us seek medical care for our backs at some point; 13 million new patients head to the doctor for chronic low back pain every year, and 100 million annual visits are made to chiropractors. In the UK each year, 1.3 million people seek out a physiotherapist on the National Health Service.

This is not a matter of ageing. As therapist Esther Gokhale discovered when studying indigenous cultures, people who move and work regularly in their later lives continue to be able to move easily well into their 80s and 90s.

In fact, back pain is no longer the exclusive province of the old. Nicole Parsons, a corrective exercise specialist (see page 55), recently told us that she’s had calls from her adult patients asking if she can also fix the necks and backs of their seven-year-old children, whose backs are seizing up after long hours spent at desks and on tablets or computers.

Conventional medicine has a terrible batting average for diagnosing and treating back problems, offering powerful drugs and overzealous surgery, or even advice like bed rest, that simply make the problem worse.

Many modern solutions, which advocate standing or treadmill desks, are improving matters, but not always solving them. The reason is that substituting standing for sitting all day long doesn’t address the core of the issue: our need to move often and in various ways.

As this is one of the major health issues of modern times, What Doctors Don’t Tell You has devoted a major portion of this issue to the modern causes of back pain and how to solve them without resorting to conventional drugs or surgery. Or, indeed, quitting your job.

We feature biomechanist Katy Bowman, author of Don’t Just Sit There, who discusses the best ways to work at a desk. NeuroMovementŒ¬ specialist Anat Baniel offers three simple desk-bound exercises to counteract long bouts of sitting. And our indefatigable reporter Cate Montana investigates three of the latest exercise therapies that claim to end back pain by changing flawed muscle patterns and posture (page 50).

To improve the state of our readers’ backs, with this issue, WDDTY is also launching a ‘Stand Up for a Better Back’ campaign. We’re challenging all of you to start varying your positions at home and on the job. To kick it off, we introduce a diary of three members of our team with back issues, who have begun varying their positions at work with Varidesks, which allow users to stand or sit at variable heights with just the flip of a switch.

This month, we report on our initial experiences with our stand/sit desks, and we invite you to write in with your ‘Stand Up’ experiences as well.

When trying to fix your own back issues, it’s important to remember that the spine doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s a complex structure that includes the hips, pelvis and ribs, all the tissues, muscles and ligaments surrounding them, and even the organs encased within them.

The major issue in treating back pain is not the spine per se, but everything that attaches to it. The long-term solution to most back issues is breaking the poor muscle chain patterns that have pulled all these bony structures out of alignment, and reminding our muscles, once more, what they were put on this earth to do.

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