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Does back pain run in families?

I read today in the US survey of Back and Neck Pain that 21% of respondants thought it ran in the family. This I found very interesting because apart from a few heredetary conditions, back and neck pain are unlikely to be inherited. So what is going on here?

Human beings are very strange we often adopt behaviours and habits from the people we spend most time with. We are all very aware at how good children are at mimicking adults from an early age, well what if children subconsciously follow our own habits and look very like us as adults.

If you slump in a chair a lot at home, or if you have an usual gait when you walk or tilt your head to one side when you talk. Maybe your children or family members pick up these habits too.

So what I am suggesting is that back pain may be as a result of habits we pick up from an early age.

I am aware myself that within my family there is a history of back problems. Interestingly my father often walks around tightening at the hips in a slight stoop and then walks with his hands clasped behind his back. On occasion before I discovered the nature of habit with the Alexander Technique I was known to walk like this too. I had also back problems in the past.

Maybe bad backs do run in families but it maybe down to the way we use our bodies not down to a heredetary musculoskeletal condition.


African lady walking with poise


Next time you go for a walk observe what you might be doing with your body. Do you bounce up and down, do you lean back with your hips and pull your shoulders back. Watch other people walking its quite amusing as you will see all kinds of strange habits when walking. Clearly the lady above has not developed any bad habits when walking.

How to use a standing desk and avoid back pain

If you are considering purchasing a standing desk or already use one it's worthwhile thinking about how you are going to stand.

Many people will go to their habitual posture that they use when lowering their gaze to look at something. Often this will involve collapse of the torso particularly around the chest area, which in turn will cause your shoulders to round, this will also prevent your arms and shoulders to work at the optimum - the very thing you are going to need when working at your desk and computer.
There may also be a resultant compensatory adjustment to your balance, involving your lower back and you may start to get back pain.
If the head drops forward as it will probably do as the weight of the head is 60% forward then it will also result in neck pain too.

Did you know that the average head weighs 10-14lbs similar to this bowling ball?

Bowling ball weighs as much as your head

Quite a shock when I pass a bowling ball around when I give introductory talks on the Alexander Technique, and how misuse of the head, neck back relationship can cause pain.

So how do we stand effectively at a standing desk?

* First of all get yourself set up properly so that your desk is at a height that you don't have to stoop to work at it, Your arms should rest gently on the desk with elbows just lower than 90 degrees.
* Then think of the support of the ground. Think of a tripod of support behind your big toe, little toe & heel. To sense this point of balance try rocking forwards and backwards until you find your centre of balance.
* Then rather than thinking of the 10lb bowling ball sitting on top of your spine think of a light football, think of your torso lengthening and your shoulders widening particularly across the upper chest. You are now set up nicely in balance to start work at your desk and avoiding the many pitfalls associated with standing, particularly lower back pain.
* You can now just allow your gaze to look towards your computer. Notice if your balance changes. If it does noticably you might be better having one foot a fraction in front of the other. Awareness of the balance point of the head is critical here, its much higher up than you think - in fact its between the ears. Try placing your fingers on your ears and gently nod your head up and down to get an idea of this balance point. Now when you look at your computer be quietly aware of this balance point of your head, it will put much less strain on your neck.