Six ways to increase activity, and decrease back pain

Story by Kyle Kercher

Eighty percent of people have reported experiencing an episode of lower back pain at some point in their lives. Everybody has heard of back pain, but how about sitting pain? Many of us spend over eight hours per day sitting and then can’t quite figure out why we hurt. Sometimes we look for quick fixes like anti-inflammatory drugs, topical pain relievers or chiropractors and physical therapists when the best answer may actually be much simpler, and thankfully more long-term.

Recently, I took a couple of relatively long road trips on four consecutive days. We drove down and back from Kalispell to Billings for coaching football on a Friday and Saturday. Then I drove from Kalispell to Spokane to take an exam down and back on Sunday and Monday. Total drive time was about 22 hours. These road trips turned into a rather unpleasant reminder of the negative effects of sitting. Sitting, standing and especially lying down were painful for the next few days. I’m not here to say increased time sitting may be related to cardiovascular disease or cancer, though you can find that information if you’d like to investigate it. But I am here to say that, as it relates to my personal health at just 30 years old, prolonged sitting causes me significant back and hip pain, and even promotes negative mood responses. That makes me wonder how others who are older and/or less active may be influenced.

I don’t think I’m alone in the negative effects of prolonged sitting. It’s very common to find that the more we move the better we feel; likewise, the more we sit the worse we feel. It may be time for you to consider how much time you spend sitting, and similarly how much time you spend moving, if you want to feel your best.

Another important point to emphasize is that we should look at our activity throughout the day rather than just the workout. Oftentimes, the cumulative amount of activity in a full day is quite low even if we perform a workout. We will likely have a spike in activity where we get a few thousand steps or burn a few hundred calories, but when you look at that movement over the whole day, it’s still relatively low. We were made to move, often and regularly, in all sorts of different ways. Doing a workout and then sitting all day likely isn’t enough movement to help us feel our best.

Here are six intentional points of emphasis to help you decrease your back or sitting pain, improve your activity plan and maybe even improve your mood responses.

1. Keep Your Autonomy. Do what you want to do. Autonomy is one of our three key psychological needs in Self-Determination Theory (an important theory of motivation).

2. Develop Self-Awareness. Figure out how much you sit in a given day to help guide your goals. Try a wearable fitness tracker to help quantify your movement goals or norms.

3. Create OTMs (Opportunities to Move). This may be a short walk or going up a flight of stairs. You are not too busy, and work meetings do not need to be conducted sitting. Be creative — moving helps stimulate your brain, which can lead to improvements in concentration.

4. Take Small Steps. Set realistic goals or you may decrease your level of motivation to lower than where it started. For example, you could make a goal chart to check off once you’ve gone for two short walks each day.

5. Pursue Competency. Choose activities and movements that have a component of competency or a pursuit of mastery involved. These activities may help you be more likely to stick with it by providing a sense of progression and achievement rather than randomness. Competency is the second key psychological need in Self-Determination Theory, related to everything from walking to barbell training.

6. Build in Relatedness. Move with a friend or co-worker. Connecting with people in your pursuits may help you stay motivated. Relatedness is the third psychological need in Self-Determination Theory.

Kyle is a husband, entrepreneur, author, coach, and leader in Kalispell. He leads the Competitive Edge program at the Summit Medical Fitness Center. His new book, “The Mental Game — Grit, Growth, and Mental Toughness in Athletes,” is available on Amazon or at kylekercher.com/shop. Contact Kyle at coachkercher@gmail.com.