Low back is the most common injury among Canadians. The biggest problem lies in the fact very few people will actually CORRECT the problem. The do temporary solutions like pain killers, heat, massage, rest, and the biggest issue being just ignoring it.
• Back problems are among the most common chronic conditions in Canada.
• Four out of five adults will experience at least one episode of back pain at some time in their lives.
• Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability.
• Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work.
• Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic.
Tips to Prevent Back Pain
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Remain active—under the supervision of a practitioner.
• Avoid prolonged inactivity or bed rest.
• Warm up or stretch before exercising or other activities like gardening.
• Maintain proper posture. This may be something you need to correct or reprogram in your body.
• Wear proper foot wear.
• Lift with your knees, keep the object close to your body, and do not twist when lifting.
• Quit smoking. Smoking impairs blood flow, resulting in oxygen and nutrient depletion to spinal tissues.
• Make sure that your computer workstation is ergonomically correct.
• Increase core strength
• Improve mobility in hips and shoulders.
I am going to focus on the last two, Increase Core Strength and Improve Mobility In Hips and Shoulders.
Most people are sitting for excessive periods of time. This puts you in a bad position for your upper back and hips. You develop both upper cross and lower cross syndrome. Sitting typically has you in constant flexion. You get rounded shoulders but also a posterior pelvic tilt. This position tightens up your hip flexors and weakens your core.
For someone like myself, who has been standing for 26 years for my job, it isn’t actually isn’t any better. I am in constant flexion and I have an extreme ANTERIOR pelvic tilt instead of a posterior tilt which is caused by sitting. An anterior tilt also tightens your hip flexors. Only difference between the two is sitting puts your back muscles in constant stretch which over time will cause back pain. Standing with an anterior tilt puts your back in constant tension leading to back pain.
Improving mobility in your hips and upper back will help correct posture and over time elevate pain. You will never have perfect posture if you continue to do the same patterns every day, but if you are consistent with exercises to improve mobility and stability, do strength training and stretch when and where needed, you will improve the issue and stop it from getting worse over time. What you need to do here is very individual and would depend how you did on a movement and posture screen.
Improving core strength is a must. The key thing here is not to automatically think crunches and and twisting is going to strengthen your core. In order to properly improve core strength for preventing back pain you need to learn proper breathing to brace while you are lifting and to relieve tension from your upper back. Sitting shuts down diaphragm breathing. Your core assists in breathing mechanics. If you aren’t breathing properly then your core doesn’t work properly. You must start in your diaphragm and then fill the chest. Both are important and result in proper breathing patterns.
Here is a great exercise to start with to understand diaphragm breathing:
1. Take a deep breath in expanding your stomach. As your stomach fills your chest will next. Exhale forcefully getting all the air out. Repeat until you feel you are getting the breathing pattern right.
2. Now breath expanding out at your sides. If you have someone with you, get them to place a finger on each side of your stomach. Fill up as much as you can into their fingers and exhale forcefully getting all the air out. Again repeat until you get the breathing pattern right. This one is more difficult to do.
Bracing exercises are some of the best ways to impr ove core strength and in turn helping elevate back pain or prevent it. Here are 3 great exercises and variations that you can do.
Tips: Squeeze glutes tight. Pull your rib cage down so it is not flaring, squeezing abs like you are in a small crunch. Stomach should look flat and tight. As you extend leg and arm out, this bracing should stay the same. No movement in your rib cage or spine.
For a variation and challenge, keep arms up. Extend leg out but externally rotate your hip so your toes point out to the side and the inner part of your foot is facing up.
Tips: A plank is not just hanging out. The first picture is how a proper plank should be done and great for those with excessive spinal extension. You are doing a slight pelvic tilt squeezing glutes tight. You open up the top of your back pulling rib cage in. Again like a small crunch. Keep that bracing for about 20 secs rest and repeat. The second picture is what not to do!
Tips: Instead Of being on your forearms you will be in a push up plank. Same position, pelvic tilt, tight glutes and open back. Pull ribs in and keep an ab brace. Reach out in front and out to the side while maintaining the bracing.
These can be done with dumbbells or kettlebells. The benefits don’t just lie in improving core strength but also in shoulder stability. Great for desk jockeys!
Hold dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand. Pull shoulders back and down locking it in through your lats. Walk for distance or time. Key is to keep from leaning to one side. Walk fairly slow and keep weight from resting on your leg. .
Double carries are done the same as above except both arms are loaded. Keep rib cage pulled in and abs braced. You will find this slightly easier because the weight is balanced. I suggest starting here then progressing to singles
Single carry with over-head hold. This is more advanced and is a progression from a single hold. One arm carries a dumbbell or KB the other arm is overhead. Arm straight and beside ear. Shoulder blade in and down. Think of locking down in your lats. Weight for over head hold will depend on the stability in your shoulder. Start lighter and work your way up.
All these exercises can be done on their own or you can incorporate them into your workouts. Great way to teach the body to brace before doing heavy lifts like squats or deadlifts.
If you are suffering already from low back pain, make sure your doctor clears you for exercise and go easy at first.
1. Learn how to breath
2. Basic bracing exercises
3. Progress to more challenging versions
4. Keep rep range 8-12 reps
5. Do one set to start working your way up to 2 or 3
6. Start incorporating them into your workouts
Don’t let low back pain stop you from leading an active life. You will be extremely happy you decided to improve your core strength for many reasons. You will move without pain or reduce it. You will lift safely in the gym and at home. You will prevent further injury. Less chance of extreme posture.