The unusual way to banish back pain, according to an expert

Giving a sore back the flick can be easy and cheap – and it only takes these five steps.

Photo: iStock

Around 80 per cent of Australians suffer with back pain at some point and the vast majority would put that down to overuse, injury and ageing. But Esther Gokhale, a biochemist who’s also known as ‘the back whisperer’, believes the real problem is modern-day posture.

“Much of our back pain results from how we hold ourselves and how we move,” Gokhale says in her book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. “I have zero doubt in my mind that we can fix more than 90 per cent of back problems by correcting posture.”

There’s certainly evidence to support this. Postural modification is rated the most effective treatment for lower by more than 50,000 people on, the world’s first crowdsourcing platform for reviewing medical interventions.

Improving your posture can be down at any age but the older you are, the longer it may take. However, Gokhale says, “it takes no longer to stand well than it does to stand poorly.”

There’s more good news: “Once they make the change, most people get immediate relief from pain and increased comfort as well as improved appearance and increased energy.”

Gokhale has helped thousands of people overhaul their posture and become pain-free, even after they’ve suffered from back pain so debilitating it stopped them from carrying their children or enjoying their favourite activity.

The secret to rediscovering a healthy posture, she says, is to mimic the weavers, fisherman and farmers in traditional communities, such as those in rural parts of Portugal, Brazil and Africa.

“In some low-income, rural communities, 80 to 90 per cent of workers are labourers who often carry heavy weights on their backs and heads,” she says. “Yet their rates of back pain are 50 to 75 per cent than in industrialised populations.”

The biggest cause of our high rate of back pain is bending with a rounded back. “This loads the discs and puts pressure on the nerves,” she explains. “After years of doing this we cross a threshold of what the body can tolerate and we’re in pain.”

Instead she says we should follow those in traditional communities and focus on keeping our knees soft and not rounding our back. “They use their entire posterior chain – the muscles in their back, legs, abs and glutes – to support the movement so their discs don’t get worn and torn and their nerves aren’t jangled and inflamed. They’re putting their bodies under more physical stress than we are but they’re doing it in a way that respects the natural curvature of the spine.”

Take a page out of their book – and Gokhale’s – with these five steps to improving your posture.

body+soul’s Rosie King shows you five simple ways you can improve your posture and fix your back problems.

5 steps to banish back pain

1. Roll your shoulders

Pick a shoulder. Move it somewhat forward, slightly up and then as far back as it can go before relaxing. Repeat on the other side.

“The tissue in your shoulders gets ratcheted back a notch as you do this move and you’ll find it will stay there without you having to engage any muscles or focus on keeping it there,” Gokhale promises. “This minimises hunching.”

2. Warm your muscles

Take a deep breath, lengthening your entire torso. Exhale and use your abdominal and back muscles to maintain the extra length. Hold that position for 30 seconds before relaxing. Repeat three times.

“This makes you stronger and more resilient against weight-bearing movement and impact throughout the day,” Gokhale says.

3. Lengthen your neck

Use one hand to grab a clump of hair at the back of your skull. Gently pull back and then up, letting your chin gently angle down without touching the chest. Hold for five seconds and then let go.

“If you’ve been texting or using a computer a lot, you tend to have a forward head posture, where your head is too far forward,” Gokhale explains. “This exercise will draw it back to a more natural position.”

4. Focus on your feet

Squish your foot muscles so the central part of the foot is off the floor – it should look like a bridge or inch worm – and then relax. Repeat this process five times.

“This will warm up and prepare the muscles in the feet for what you have in store for them for rest of the day,” Gokhale says. “It’s an excellent exercise to do in boring meetings and during plane rides too.”

5. Activate your glutes

Walk mindfully into your day. With every step you take, consciously squeeze the glutes of your rear leg.

“Strong glutes give you more balance and a more stable built-in cushion when you’re sitting,” Gokhale explains. “Squeezing your glutes with each step will also ease your landing because you’ll be using your muscles instead of jarring your joints.”

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fitness | body+soul