BLOG FITNESS, STRENGTH
July 19, 2013
Back Pain and Exercise
Back pain sucks. It really does. But unless you were in a car accident, or have some kind of spinal growth disorder, your back should not hurt. 99% of the time, back pain is due to poor health and poor body-management.
First things first: if you are experiencing back pain, go see a doctor or physical therapist. I get questions all the time from folks who say, "I have sever back pain. What exercises should I do?" That is not a question I can answer because I do not know what is going on with your back. You could have a strength imbalance, an injury, degenerative discs, or arthritis, among many other causes. Each malady would require a different series of training modalities. So, if you have back pain, figure out why before trying to manage it.
Moving on. The spine is a beautiful structure. It is the axis of your skeletal system. It is the anchor for many muscle groups and can be very stable under the right conditions. Also, the spine is quite mobile and can allow you to turn from side to side freely and without pain. That being said, the spine is meant to move! To have a healthy back, you need to exercise. Movement is necessary to feed the spine the nutrients it needs. No movement = poor spine health. Also, you must move your spine correctly. Your lower back (lumbar spine) is meant to be stable while the middle of your back (thoracic spine) is meant to be mobile. Doing exercises that enhance the mobility of your lower back is not wise. Crunches are a great example. Now, I love crunches just as much as the next guy, but they are horrible for your back. There are many more effective abdominal exercises that are also safer for your spine.
Flexibility is also important. There are many muscles that attach to your spine. If one is tight, you can guarantee that muscle will be pulling on your spine. How would you feel if someone was constantly pulling on you?
Can you keep a healthy posture? Do you hunch? Keeping a healthy posture will save your back some strain when you move, run, lift weights, etc. Posture is important. You can have great posture while sitting in a chair and you do NOT need a big round stability ball to sit on. We are told that sitting on a stability ball helps your posture and burns calories while you sit. This is just not true. It may at first, but once your brain and body figure out how to sit on that ball, you will sit and hunch the same way as you would in a chair. Sitting will also decrease your flexibility in the long run and can lead to back pain.
Let's just break this down into some simple rules:
Tight hip flexors and hamstrings can lead to back pain. Take time to stretch them out! Also, stretching your chest and lat muscles will help as well. Do not try to stretch your back. If you have back pain, it is not because a spinal muscle is tight and you need to stretch it.
2. Maintain good posture.
Hunching and over extending is bad posture. Just stand as tall as you can like a giant has reached down and is trying to pick you up by the head. Maintain this posture while you sit, stand, walk, and exercise.
3. Don't do crunches.
Every once in a while is fine, if you absolutely must do them. Instead, try planks or side planks. A good goal is to hold a plank for at least 2 minutes. Everyone should be able to do this, even if it takes some time to develop.
4. Do some strength training.
To have a healthy back, you will need conditioned and strong muscles. Back pain is correlated with poor back muscle endurance and not back strength. Keep that in mind when you are lifting. Heavy is not best when training for back health. Go for a slightly lighter weight for more repetitions.
As a side note: when lifting weights or doing abdominal exercises, do not pull your belly button to your spine. This is a misunderstanding of how your abdominal muscles support your spine. Before you lift weights, just brace your muscles like someone is going to punch you in the stomach. That is the way to properly support your spine.
For more information on seeing a physical therapist or sports medicine doctor please visit our website by clicking here. Or call (425) 861-6255.
Now get to working out and protect that back!