If there’s anything we can all agree on, it’s that back issues are a real pain. And with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons predicting that 80% of us will suffer lower back pain in our lifetimes, the problem is extremely widespread. As are the treatment options.
Comedian and late night host Jimmy Kimmel recently told The Wall Street Journal that his pain disappeared after reading and taking notes on Dr. John E. Sarno’s book, Healing Back Pain. Sarno’s premise is that repressed emotions like anxiety, anger and feelings of inferiority are at the root of most chronic pain. The brain, he claims, decreases blood flow to the muscles and nerves of the neck, shoulders, butt and back in an effort to distract us from these feelings. As a result, we suffer body pains.
More conventional medical interventions for lower back pain run the gamut. Some treat the problem with over-the-counter pain medicine. But daily use of ibuprofen and Advil can lead to gastrointestinal bleeds and kidney damage. A more drastic measure – spinal cord stimulation (which involves implanting a device that sends low levels of electricity directly into the spinal cord to relieve pain) – has recently been found to provide no long-term relief – and maybe even cause more harm.
But none of these remedies have the power to prevent lower back pain from starting in the first place. Which is why we at Etage Athletic Club are excited to hear of yet another endorsement for core workouts and their ability to not only thwart but also alleviate this ailment in particular.
The recent study out of Canada shows that just eight weeks of twice weekly, 30-minute group exercise classes focused on dynamic core stability using body weight, resistance bands and free weights can alter trunk muscle activity patterns, strength and endurance in people with and without a history of lower back pain.
Core work strengthens back muscles by increasing abdominal strength and endurance as well as back extensor endurance.
So what are some good workouts to do now to avoid pain later in life – or to combat a lower back problem already plaguing you?
Emily Hoffman, a certified fitness trainer here at Etage, recommends a combination of movements to promote core stability and strength:
Bird Dog. When performing bird dog, begin on your hands and knees with a neutral spine. Extend your right leg and your left arm fully, crunch them both into your torso while curving your spine, extend them fully again, and then return to your hands and knees. Repeat this on the other side.
Dead Bug. Start by lying on your back with your legs and arms in the air. Knees will be bent at a 90 degree angle, and arms will be extended out straight from your shoulders. Extend your right leg out straight/horizontally while at the same time extending your left arm out straight/horizontally. Return to a neutral position and then repeat on the other side.
Glute Bridge. When performing a glute bridge, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Push through your feet to raise your hips about 6 inches off the ground and then lower your hips back down.
Plank. There are many different variations of planks. The two basics are full and forearm. In a full plank, your arms will be fully extended with your hands on the floor. In a forearm plank, your elbows will be on the floor. Legs should be fully extended, core engaged and spine at neutral. Hold this position for a timed amount, gradually trying to increase your time.
Aim for 10 to 20 repetitions of each movement to get those abdominal muscles engaged and strengthened. Repeat the circuit two or three time if you’re just starting off and work your way up to four repetitions for maximum benefit. Hoffman advises doing this kind of core work two to three times a week to get results. After time, she suggests increasing the difficulty of these exercises by adding weight or performing different variations.
And when you aren’t exercising, remember to take care of your back with this advice from Mayo Clinic:
• Stand smart. When upright, avoid slouching and always maintain a neutral pelvic position. When standing for long periods, it helps to place one foot on a low footstool to lighten the load on the lower back, then alternate your feet. Remember: good posture reduces back muscle stress.
• Sit smart. Chairs need to offer good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. A pillow or rolled towel positioned at the small of the back helps to maintain normal curvature. Always keep knees and hips level when seated, and change your position every half-hour at minimum.
• Lift smart. Steer clear of heavy lifting! When you can’t avoid it, remember to let your legs do the work while keeping your back straight (no twisting!) and bending only at the knees. Always hold the load close to your body and find a partner when possible.
As always, Etage trainers are ready and willing to teach you the proper mechanics of movement and how to tackle nagging issues like lower back pain with core-strengthening workouts. Contact us now to take charge of your back health.