As Rascal Flatts succinctly put it, “Life is a highway” and when it comes to keeping you alive and well, your back is your body’s highway. Serving as the nerve transport system, your back is one of the most fundamentally important areas of your body and any inhibitors or damage to it can have drastic consequences.
The purpose of the muscles and ligaments within your lower back is to hold the bones of your spinal column safely and securely. When these muscles and ligaments are stretched too far or stretched repeatedly, they can develop small tears, which in turn weaken the muscles, leading to lower back pain.
Sit Up Straight
It may not be a surprise to learn that, like many things involving sitting down for prolonged periods of time, posture is an important factor. When you slouch, you are putting additional pressure on the discs, joints, and muscles of your lower back. You are stretching them out of their natural position and if slouching is something you are doing often, the repetitive nature of it can deal a lot of damage to your back.
So, how do you avoid slouching? First, you’re going to want to ensure your play space is optimally set up. Keyboard within easy reach, wrists resting comfortably when typing or using a controller, chair set to the ideal height so your feet are comfortably flat on the ground etc. Particularly if you haven’t been sitting with good posture for a while, you may have to consciously and actively adjust the way you’re sitting over the course of your gaming sessions.
For those who have gotten into the habit of slouching, it can be hard to transition to correct posture and as such, you may experience some discomfort or slight pain. For the most part, if your body isn’t used to sitting properly, especially for long periods of time, you may experience some discomfort or pain but it’s normal. The lower back muscles have been weakened and simply need to be strengthened.
Speaking of strengthening your lower back muscles, yoga has long been used to increase flexibility and vigour of the body. As a bonus it can be quite soothing and a good way to break up long gaming sessions.
Take Pigeon Pose for example. To do this, you will need to start in Downward Facing Dog which is achieved through starting on your hands and knees with your legs together, and lifting your tailbone towards the sky. You should make a triangle shape. From there move your left foot forward and turn it to the left. This should make a roughly 90 degree angle with your right foot. Then, you will lower both legs to the ground, keeping your back leg extended behind you.
Pigeon Pose stretches your hip flexors which can become tight and constricted after prolonged sitting, contributing to lower back pain. For an easier stretch, you can even try the Upward Forward Bend, which has you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Inhale and exhale a few times, bending at the hip as you are exhaling. The goal is to reach as close to the ground as possible but only go until you feel a nice stretch in your hamstrings. You will then simply need to hold this position for a few seconds then repeat. As you may have guessed, Upward Forward Bend is an optimal stretch for the hamstrings and your lower back.
If you find yourself feeling too tired or not bothered to exercise and would much rather sink some time into your new favourite game, you may want to rethink. Exercise strengthens your core muscles and promotes circulation to all of your joints and discs in your back. Think about a regular garden hose and how the water flow is reduced when their is a kink in the line. The same principle can be applied to blood flow around your body, as it can reduce stiffness and help repair any existing lower back damage.
Whether you want to hit the gym for a vigorous weight session, take your bicycle for a spin, or just go on a leisurely walk, you need to do some form of exercise. Even if you are just performing some basic stretches, they can help by strengthening the muscles in and around your lower back. Here are a few stretches that can help your lower back;
- Forearm Plank: Just like the trend was great for the entertainment of everyone else, planking can efficiently strengthen your core which, in turn, can increase the stability of your back. To do the forearm plank, you will need to rest your body on your forearms, which in turn will be positioned below your shoulders. Your legs should be straight out, with only the balls of your feet touching the ground.
- Bridges: Designed to strengthen your glutes, Bridges can help lower back pain by toning the muscles around the hips, which help you sit, stand, and move around properly. To do a Bridge, you’ll need to lie on your back, with your feet flat on the ground. Press you feet into the ground as you slowly raise your butt upwards until you’re body has formed a straight line from shoulder to knees. Your shoulders should remain on the ground. Hold this position for a few seconds before lowering yourself. Repeat.
- Spine Stretch: If you’ve been sitting down to long and collecting those wins, then this stretch could be just what you need. As the name suggests, it’s designed to stretch out your spine and requires you to lay on your back with a small cushion or pillow under your head. Your arms should be straight out to sides in a ‘T’ post and your knees should be together with your feet flat on the ground. Breath in and out. On the exhale, roll your knees and pelvis to one side, while keeping your shoulders on the ground. Breathe in, as you return to the starting position and then roll your knees to the other side as you breathe out.
Maintain a Good Sleep Posture
Not the same as bed rest, which can be detrimental for alleviating lower back pain, it’s important to maintain a good sleep posture which keeps your spine in alignment. As much as it can be easy to fall asleep in your gaming chair after a a few hours of play, it’s not doing your back any favours. And in a vicious feedback loop, much like maintaining sitting and standing posture, lower back pain can prevent you from getting proper restful sleep.
As mentioned above proper sleep posture is all about keeping your spine in alignment with the other parts of your body. You should avoid sleeping on your stomach as this can put additional pressure on the spine. Optimally, you can sleep on your back with a small pillow underneath your knees to relieve spinal pressure. Further enhancing this position, you can also place another small pillow or rolled up towel underneath the arch of your back.
Sleeping on your back can sometimes be uncomfortable and to that end, you can sleep on your side, with pillow between your knees. Holding the pillow between your knees helps keep your spine in alignment with your hips and pelvis.
As gamers, we all have those moments where we just want to sit down, play for hours upon hours, and forget what time it is. But it’s important to take care of your lower back, strengthening the surrounding muscles, and allowing them to repair, otherwise your gaming may be interrupted by pain and stiffness.