Have you ever thought that maybe your back isn’t killing you – that maybe you are killing your back?
Almost 80 percent of the adult population will have back pain severe enough that they will have to miss work and visit their physician.
This absolutely does not have to be the case. While certain conditions such as arthritis and degenerative disc disease cannot be prevented, many disorders of the low back can be avoided, or at least minimized through some preventive maintenance.
Unfortunately, most people don’t even think about their backs until they suffer an injury.
My brother, a conditioned athlete in his 30’s bent over to tie his shoe while in a hotel room and could not get back up. He had to crawl to the telephone to call for an ambulance. This event was a huge wake up call for him. While he had always been active he had ignored low back and core conditioning and opted for the heavier weight training he had participated in for years prior.
Most people do some form of abdominal exercise as part of their regular workout program. That’s great, but you need to include exercises for the entire core, including low back, obliques and transverse abdominus (deep ab muscles) in addition to the beloved crunch. You should also learn to activate your core muscles and set them in order to best support your body. In fitness we use the term ‘neutral’ to describe optimum posture. Simply put, this means that we do not necessarily flatten the low back, but we tighten the abdominal structures and allow the back to curve naturally, not excessively. I ask my clients to imagine a string tied to the inside of their navel and that someone is pulling the string out from the spine. Think of it as a puckering effect. The trick is to tighten without holding your breath. Remember that your hips, gluteuls, inner thighs and even your shoulder girdle are included in the ‘core’. Your conditioning program should be balanced and include strengthening/stretching exercises for all these muscles.
Use a mirror to check your posture. See what neutral looks like for you. Practice neutral posture while standing, sitting and lying on the floor.
It doesn’t stop there. While standing check your head/neck position. Ensure that your chin doesn’t jut forward. Remember what your mom told you? Pull your shoulders back! Think of pulling your shoulder blades back, down and together – as though you were putting your shoulder blades in your back pockets. Your shoulder caps should remain relaxed.
Unlock those knees! Have you ever noticed that you tend to stand with your weight favoured to one side? It’s a bad habit and it can put a lot of stress on your hips, knees and yes, even your low back!
Don’t wait until you suffer an injury to look after your back. Consult a fitness professional to get a balanced program for your entire core and to learn how to activate core muscles so that your body is properly supported during other exercises and for daily living functions (like bending over to tie your shoes!). Practice safe lifting techniques (we’ll cover these in future articles) and learn to incorporate stretches for your low back, glutes and hips at the end of your workouts and throughout your day. Always warm up prior to any workout. If you are overweight, losing a few pounds can go a long ways in helping alleviate low back pain. Maintaining even a moderate level of activity, such as walking or swimming can be extremely helpful in the prevention of back pain.
If you have had the misfortune of suffering a low back injury see your physician for proper diagnosis and treatment recommendations.