It is a sad fact that according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, an estimated 85% of adults suffer from some form of lower back pain. While some occurrences are caused by contact injuries, most can be attributed to weak stabilizing muscles and a lack of core stability endurance.
Your stabilizing muscles are the beginning of every natural movement you make. If you move your arm, your stabilizers will fire first. They are your center of gravity and they are there to ensure not only balance but proper absorption and transference of all forces coming from inside and outside the body. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking down the street or riding a 2500lb bull, flipping a burger or swinging for the fences; you’re stabilizers act first in order to protect the spine.
The spine should really never have pressure on it because it should always be protected by the stabilizers but due to our sedentary lives, nutrient deficient diets, and dysfunctional breathing patterns (chest breathing), our stabilizers are weak and our spine suffers more stress than it is intended to take.
As I discussed in my last post, The truth about core workouts, many people don’t realize that your core is actually two different systems (one for movement and one for stability) so if it is realized that weak core muscles are the problem, the answer most people come up with is to start doing core work like sit ups, leg lifts, and back extensions. These movements however, are designed to strengthen the movers but not the stabilization muscles such as your transverse abdominals, multifidus, and inner obliques. Utilizing these core mover muscles without proper support from your stabilizers, just puts further pressure on an already weak spine.
If you don’t have a base of support in your muscles, your spine becomes your support. This can cause damage to the ligaments that support the vertebrae which leads to a narrowing of the opening in which the spinal nerve passes through.It also leads to further compressing of the discs between the vertebrae. If you ever slipped a disc, you know first hand why this is bad.
Furthermore, without proper support your body will make many compensations which will lead to further imbalances and more possibility for injury. For instance, if you ever see someone leading with their head in a core exercise or rotating their pelvis forward to complete a sit up, you are witnessing compensations due to weak core muscles and stabilizers and these can lead to all sorts of other problems.
With that said, I want to give you 5 things you should do right now to get your stabilizers up to par and to get rid of back pain for good.
- Stop doing exercises that put pressure on the spine. There are many of these but the main ones that come to mind are weighted squats, dead lifts, and core exercises that require movement of the spine. (This isn’t permanent, just until you build some support.)
- Stretch. Stretch several times a day if you can, pay particularly close attention to the hip flexors and hamstrings if you sit a lot.
- Do stabilization exercises like the ones I mentioned in my last post. Do vacuums as much as possible. Remember, your stabilizers are mainly made up of type 1 slow twitch fibers so time under tension is very important. Flexing them for at least 6-20 seconds at a time will provide you with much better results than faster movements.
- During all exercises, practice the drawing in technique. Just before you do the exercise, you can create more stability and deeper core activation by pulling in the area just under your naval toward your spine (without bending at the spine). It acts as a sort of natural weight belt.
- Pay attention to all compensations you make during exercise. This can be knees moving inward during squats, head going forward when pulling or pushing with your arms, back arching during overhead press, lower back lifting during bench press, etc. If any of these are present, you must correct them through stretching shortened muscles and strengthening weak muscles. Your body is a chain and each compensated movement affects your core and therefore your spine. Fix them.
Here’s one more as an added bonus.
During all exercise, keep your head aligned with your body and your cervical spine neutral. Looking sideways to check out your biceps in the mirror, off at a TV across the way, or ogling the girl you’re hoping notices your impressive physique, is asking for all sorts of trouble. Your pelvo-ocular reflex (meaning your pelvis turns in the direction of your eyes) will kick in and alter your movement patterns, thus making damage to your spine very possible.
If you have serious pain in your back, you should of course get it checked out by a doctor before exercising outside of that following the steps above can go a long way in helping that nagging pain to go away. If you haven’t already, check out yesterday's post for more information about the core and why the stabilizers are so important.
Until next time,
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