Exercising to Get to the “Core” of Chronic Back Pain

on Sunday, 03 April 2016. Posted in Fitness the "right way"

IMPORTANT: It is IMPERATIVE that you first consult with a physician prior to exercising if you are experiencing any type of lower back pain

Mankind may have learned to walk upright millions of years ago — but apparently, our spines were late to get the memo! Today, medical studies list lower back pain as the world’s leading cause of mild to crippling disability.

There are hundreds of conditions that can lead to lower back pain. Some, like accident trauma or injury due to sports or excessive activity, may cause discomfort that can only be effectively treated through medical intervention. But for many, mild to severe lower back pain may be associated with lifestyle and movement practices that yield weakened core muscles and poor pelvic health. Culprits can include repeated sitting for extended periods (i.e. a desk job), improper or unbalanced lifting and carrying of objects, and also “movement distortion”—often the result of carrying around excess body weight in the front or tummy area.

Without going into too much detail, most orthopedic and sports-medicine doctors believe that the performance of deep “core” muscles which surround and stabilize the spine can have a positive or negative affect on the health of our lower back. When exposed to the conditions listed in the paragraph above, these muscles can try to compensate through altered or compromised motion, often leading to muscle atrophy, muscle strain, harmfully-adaptive muscle movement, or combination of all three. As a result, the spinal health in that area may also becomes compromised, leading to pain associated with muscular trauma and spinal-misalignment.

The good news: pain can often be reduced or even eliminated through carefully selected exercises that can help you manage your weight while ALSO strengthening core muscles to improve lower back stabilization. I state carefully selected, because many core exercises designed to target isolated muscle groups sometimes administer increased “joint load” in the spine. If you have an unbalanced core or are already experiencing some lower back pain, increased joint load can lead to strain that actually makes the pain worse.

IMPORTANT: It is IMPERATIVE that you first consult with a physician prior to exercising if you are experiencing any type of lower back pain

If your doctor determines it is safe to start exercising your core, the best way to ensure the safest exercises for you is through an appointment with a Catalyst Personal Trainer. You will then be guiding through exercises designed to produce balanced conditioning along with minimal lower back strain. We will also help assess the behavioral pattern that is creating the problem to begin with. The unfortunate “common routine” is to concentrate all the rehabilitation attention on the effected area in pain, without analyzing and correcting the condition that is CAUSING the pain. This often leads to relapse of symptoms as detrimental behavior is repeated.

With this in mind, I strongly encourage you to consider the option of corrective exercise and behavior modification. Doing so offers a holistic, preventative, permanent approach to addressing discomfort that can be a less expensive and more effective option.

For those inclined to “go it alone” without a Trainer, I thought I would offer a handful of popular Yoga and strength-training exercises that produce minimal joint load by reducing the effects of gravity. Most of these exercises are performed on the floor using a comfortable but supportive mat. Slowly building up routines using these exercises will improve stabilization, strength, and endurance of your deep-spine, core, and lower-back muscles.

Remember: pain is the body’s way of telling us something is wrong. You should never exercise through excessive pain, especially if it is coming from the joints or the lower back.


CURL UP
Lying on your back, place both hands palm-down underneath the small of your lower back. Straighten one leg, and bend the other so your foot is flat and with the heel in next to the other knee. Holding this position, lift shoulders up dear off the off floor while keeping your back straight, and hold for 2-4 seconds. (When starting out, push off your elbows as needed for assistance.) Slowly return to starting position and repeat. Work up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.


HALF KNEE, SHOULDER EXTENSION
Kneel on the ground with one knee, while the other foot remains planted on the floor in front. Keep your chest up, spine “straight” and raise opposite arm (to the leg with its foot planted) straight over head. Holding for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.


PLANK
Lie on your belly with your elbow bent. Forearms should be under shoulders, parallel with body, with palms down. Slowly tighten your stomach muscles, then raise your body while keeping back straight. Your weight should now be supported by your toes and forearms. Work up to holding this position 3 times for 30 seconds or more.


BALL PLANK
Using a large exercise ball, begin by kneeling in front of the ball, bent forward at the waist with your elbows on the ball. Then straighten out both legs so you are in a plank position supported by your toes and elbows on the ball. Slowly roll your elbows in a circular motion on the ball as if stirring a caldron, making sure to keep your back aligned straight. Work up to doing this for three 10 to 15 second intervals, resting 3 to 5 seconds between intervals.


STRAIGHT-ARM PULL DOWN (Requires gym equipment)
Position yourself facing toward a cable machine and have the cable pulley set to the top. Use a handle attachment that can fit both your hands on it (i.e. wide-grip bar or rope). Extend arms out straight, with your body slightly bending forward. Draw stomach in as you the pull handle down to your hips while keeping your arms straight. Return handle to shoulder height and repeat for 8-12 repetitions, with a brief pause at each “top” and “bottom” position of the rep. Repeat for 3 sets.


CAT to CAMEL
Positioned on your hands and knees, round your back upward as far as you can comfortably and hold for about 5 seconds. Then let your stomach slowly lower as you relax and gently let your back arch downward. Work up to 2 to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.


HIP BRIDGE
Begin on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Begin by tightening your stomach, squeezing your gluteus muscles (your butt muscles) as you lift your hips upward until your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds before slowly returning to start position. Work up to 3 sets, 10 repetitions each set.


POINTER or BIRD DOG
Starting on your hands and knees, tighten your stomach muscles, then extend and raise one arm to shoulder level WHILE YOU ALSO lift and extend the opposite leg so that body, arm and leg are all aligned and parallel to floor. Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds, then return to starting position and repeat using the opposite arm and leg. Work up to 3 sets of 10 alternating repetitions each side.

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