Considering the extremely high rate of back pain in the public it is amazing that there is so much poor information on how to prevent it. Not only is most of the information out there not useful, but many of the recommended stretches and exercises will actually hurt you in the long run. Making sure that you have correct information is the biggest key to battling back pain and making sure that is stays away.
One of the most common mistakes I see in the gym and hear about in my office is the way people combat back pain and muscle spasms. It is a common thought that when you have back pain your lower back muscles are the weak link and therefore need to be strengthened even more. I continuously hear about people increasing the number of back extensions that they do in the gym so that they can get a stronger lower back and prevent future episodes of back pain. In fact, many times this is the opposite of what you should be doing to improve the health of your lower back.
When the lumbar spine is put under too much stress the surrounding spinal muscles spasm and tighten as a protective mechanism. These muscles cause extension of the low back which simulates leaning backwards. Now, if low back tightness and muscle spasms are a chronic problem do you think that it makes sense to go to the gym and train those muscles to work harder in that direction? Think about it this way: if your arm hurt because of chronically tight bicep muscles do you think it is wise to just increase the number of bicep curls you do? Of course not! So why do this to the lower back? The problem is not the strength of the lumbar spine muscles, but rather the strength of all the surrounding core muscles such as the glutes and abdominals.
This brings us to another very important question: What is the core? This term is thrown around all the time, but most people don’t really have any idea what it really means. The core is much more than just the abdominal muscles. It is any and all muscles that contribute to the stability of the pelvis and lumbar spine (low back). This list is too long to go into detail in this article, but just know that the core’s importance in preventing back pain is critical. And now that you know the core consists of numerous muscles you can imagine how a proper strengthening program to avoid low back pain must include exercises for many different areas. You must get away from the notion that strengthening the low back requires only abdominal and low back muscle exercises.
When many of the core muscles are not strong enough to support the spine then the low back muscles must work double-time to compensate. This is the cause of your pain! The low back muscles are doing too much work while other muscles are not doing enough. Do not then ask the low back muscles to do even more work during your exercise routines. The real solution lies in knowing how to strengthen all the other muscles that provide support to the lumbar spine. This will in time create an environment where each muscle is performing at its best and only doing the job it is supposed to be doing.
Dr. Vince DiSaia, DC, CSCS, is both a Chiropractor and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He is also co-founder and Vice President of Triple Dynamix, Inc., a company dedicated to providing instructional materials for the purpose of building functional strength and mobility. For more information on researched-based, clinically proven, and simple exercises to avoid back pain and increase low back fitness visit [http://www.tripledynamix.com]
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