Past research has shown that nearly 80% of all Americans will experience some type of back pain in their lives. I believe it as I’ve seen countless people, not just in my line of work, but everywhere I seem to go. Someone’s always complaining about back problems. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons believes this as well, as they say 80% of us out there will encounter some type of problem with our back before we die.
Usually, the treatment for lower back pain is increasing core strength to increase flexibility on muscles that are tight, which will provide better stabilization of the spine and exercises to correct the imbalances of the muscles. The muscles that surround the spine will provide stability and support of the spinal column.
Every muscle between the hips and shoulders are included as well, as these muscles are referred to as the core muscles. Back pain can be a result of muscle imbalances caused by any of these core muscles. Our society has shifted so much over the past 20 years to more and more sedentary jobs, causing everyone to slouch over in their seat while sitting at their desk, resulting in loose back muscles.
We have been training, unknowingly, to provide our bodies with imbalances. It’s just ludicrous if you really think about it. If the back of your thighs are weaker than the front of your thighs, there will be an uneven pull on the front of your spinal column. The same thing goes for all muscles involved in opposite planes.
There are some effective ways that you can integrate core strength training exercises into all of the exercises you perform, rather than doing just the traditional crunches and sit-ups. In fact, I’m not a huge fan of even doing crunches or sit-ups. I never plug them into any of my programs as it just seems to repeat what we’ve been doing to our bodies already, which is hammering our bodies into forward flexion, which is where we’ve run into problems in the first place.
One way of improving our core strength is by breathing effectively. Deep breathing will utilize your diaphragm muscles which will help support the spinal column and lengthen the spine, which is great for your lower back and supporting you when you walk or run. The respiratory system is probably the most overlooked system when we train. I mean, we run all the time, which involves us to breathe, but studies are starting to show that the majority of people actually have inconsistent breathing patterns.
The plank and bridge exercises can also help you to reduce back pain and strengthen the core muscles as well. The plank exercise is performed by having three points of contact on the floor, both forearms and toes, facing the floor, and contracting our core for a set amount of time.
Another type of plank is the side plank, which is great for strengthening your obliques. This exercise involves 2 points of contact, the side of one foot and one elbow. You’ll be perpendicular to the floor, having to contract one side of your core to keep yourself with a neutral spine.
For the bridge, place your feet on a bench or on the floor and scoop your pelvis upward, as your rib cage should stay low to reduce any irritation to your spinal muscles. The bridge will help to relieve stress on your back and focus the muscle contractions into the glutes and the hamstrings.
There are also a number of stretches for lower back pain which include the lumbar side stretch, hip flexor stretch, and calf stretches, as all three can help to alleviate the pull on your spinal column.
When doing a hip flexor stretch, bring one foot forward in a bent knee, 90 degree angle, while your other leg is on the floor behind you with your foot pointed upwards toward the ceiling. The hip flexor stretch will help to open up the muscles of your back on the side of the spine near your hips. You can also squeeze your glutes as well to deepen the stretch with each breath you exhale. You should begin to feel a stretch in your back leg, in the front thigh and the hamstrings of your front leg. Some people also refer to this stretch as a runner’s stretch.
For the lumbar side stretch, you will bring your legs into a wide stance with your knees bent while you stand. Simply bring one hand down towards your foot on the inside of the thighs and your other hand behind your head.
The last stretch, called the calf stretch, will open up your Achilles tendon, just below the calf, which is the most distant pull on the spine. For this, place an object under your foot and lean the weight of your body forwards. Maintain a steady breathing pattern while you hold your stretches. After a while, you should begin to feel a stretch behind your knee and shin.
I’ll tell you from experience, as I’ve “thrown my back out” before, that inactivity is worse for your back than anything. It may sound strange, but when you start getting pain in your back, it’s probably time to actually start doing something, rather than “resting it” even more.
Another important point to consider when doing any activity is proper form for each exercise. Keeping a neutral spine, instead of finding yourself bending forward or rounding forward at the shoulders, is a huge key to staying injury free.
The last thing you should really consider, especially if you’re a seasoned weight lifter, is to build in a few more sets of posterior chain exercises than anterior chain. This just means, doing a few more sets for the muscles of the back of your body than the front.
For example, if you’re working upper body one day, a superset may consist of the bench press and the seated row. Normally, you’ll find people always doing the same amount of sets for each exercise in a superset. Instead, try doing one more set of the seated row than the bench press. This will help solve the problem of muscle imbalances that have been created over time.
Back pain can be a huge cause of stress in people’s lives. As a population, we constantly sit for hours upon hours which doesn’t do anything to help solve the problem. If you really want to find a solution for your back pain, consult a physician and see if you’re healthy enough to start doing some physical activity. It might be the only prescription you need.