The Olympics Caused My Back Pain

Exercises I Should've Done while Watching Team USA

I woke up with back pain the other morning, a little twinge on my left side. As I did some gentle stretches to try to work out the muscle pain, I thought back on the day before: had I done anything unusual? I'd run 5 miles, but that's normal for me (not to brag). I'd worked all day, taken a walk with a good friend, made dinner—all regular activities and nothing to cause this little bout of back pain.

TV ViewingThen it hit me: I had watched the Olympics. More precisely, I had watched four hours of the Olympics. Apparently, watching über-atheletes is my form of participation in the "One World, One Dream" Beijing theme.

Ok, it's a pretty low-key participation. But I do yell at and cheer for the athletes—that's an active form of participation, right?

No, not really. I'm relatively certain that my back pain can be traced directly to four hours of sitting slumped on the couch marveling at other peoples' athletic prowess.

Does it help if I point out that it wasn't four hours straight? A couple of times, I got up to get something to eat. Maybe I should've eaten more popcorn and Oreos as I watched the women's gymnastics team go for the gold and settle for the silver. Then I would've moved around a bit more.

Eating more is obviously not the solution to my Olympic-related back pain. (Read the article Back Pain and Obesity for a hint why.)

Here are some easy things I could've done—and you can do—while watching the Olympics.
Really, you can do them while watching TV of any sort, not just the Olympiad sort. Say you're going to watch all the Lord of the Rings movies in a row: definitely follow these tips.

Sit properly.
I don't even want to admit what my posture looked like the other night. And as a medical writer focused on the spine, I'd probably lose a lot of credibility if people found out that I spent four hours scooted all the way forward on the couch, my neck angled sharply as my head rested on the back of the couch. My low back—precisely where I had muscle pain the next day—was completely unsupported. For four whole hours, it was arched, causing my low back muscles to work differently.

Well, there goes my credibility.

Please don't sit like me. I'm not saying you have to watch TV all prim and proper like you're having high tea with the Queen. But you should:

  • make sure your low back is supported. Use those Crate & Barrel pillows for something more than mere decoration.
  • avoid sitting on the couch for too long. It's so comfy, I know, but you're more prone to just sinking in on the couch (like I did). Think about watching TV from an armchair—the key being something with two armrests. Then your arms can help "carry" your weight while you're sitting.
  • change positions frequently. Better yet, get up every 10 to 15 minutes and do a little walk around the living room. Think of it as a track and field event.

Do some stretches.
Really, what else are you doing while you watch TV? If you think you don't have the time for daily stretches, step up your multi-tasking capabilities. You can definitely stretch while watching TV.

A couple of easy stretches:
Knee to Chest

  • Start on your back.
  • Gently pull one knee towards your chest, using your hands to hold your leg in the stretch.
  • Hold 10 seconds. You should feel a stretch in your low back and hip.
  • Switch legs and pull your other knee towards your chest, again holding 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 3-5 times with each leg.
  • Bring both legs to your chest, holding 10 seconds and repeating 3-5 times.

Lower Trunk Rotation

  • Start on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • With your knees together, bring them to one side. Your feet should stay on the floor.
  • Hold 3-5 seconds.
  • Contract your abdominal muscles while moving your legs to the opposite side, again holding for 3-5 seconds
  • Repeat 5-10 times on each side.

For more stretches you can do to prevent back pain—or to deal with it once you've got it—read this article.

I'm going to follow my own advice when I watch the Olympics tonight—or as NBC dramatically calls them, "The Games of the 29th Olympiad" (I hope you're humming the theme now). By taking good care of my spine, maybe I'll be able to ignore my other main issue while watching the Olympians: being jealous of their athletic abilities.

But that's an emotional issue for another day. For right now, I'm going to focus on dealing with this back pain.

No pain, no gain, after all.

Updated on: 08/18/15
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