Many people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives, and most will go to just about any length to make the pain go away. But what about stopping it before it starts? Did you know that back pain, specifically low back pain, can be caused by poor posture and weak abdominal muscles? It’s true. And those are the specific areas that need to be targeted and strengthened to relieve the pain and prevent future flare-ups.
You’re probably wondering how abdominal muscles have anything to do with back pain. Well, the torso is a combination of muscles that all work together, and if the muscles in the front (the abdomen) are weak, guess which ones must pick up the slack? That’s right: the lower muscles at the back of the torso. Weak abdominal muscles end up diverting the extra stress around the back, which leaves the muscles overworked, sore and painful. Most everyone living with chronic back pain can benefit from strengthening their core muscles, and introducing just a few exercises a day can help improve the pain. Here are a couple abdominal strengthening exercises you can try at home:
Planks. Start by lying on your stomach on the floor, place your feet shoulder-width apart and come up into a position like you were going to do a push-up. Instead of going down into the push-up, hold the plank position for about 30 seconds and then repeat three times (with a short break in between). Do this in the morning, evening or both as you begin to get stronger.
The ab crunch. If you’re going to do these, make sure your positioning and form are correct and that you incorporate different types of crunches to avoid further harming the back. Start by lying flat on the floor on your back, bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and focus on bringing your head and chest up to the ceiling. Try five sets of 10 to start, and increase as you build more stamina. But remember, with these exercises, maintaining a properly aligned posture is imperative to avoid further injury.
Maintaining posture is not only crucial when exercising, but in everyday life, as well. “Bad” posture is one of the top causes of chronic aching backs, and here’s why. The spine has three natural curves: a forward curve at the neck, a backward curve at the upper back and a forward curve at the lower back. Good posture, with the spine aligned straight over the pelvis, helps maintain these natural curves, while a hunched posture can pull the muscles and add additional stress to certain areas. The upper back muscles will become overly developed, and as the lower back and core muscles try to compensate, horrible back pain may ensue.
If you’re like most people, it becomes second nature to walk around with bad posture or sit hunched over at a desk, and some people don’t even realize they’re doing it. When you slouch, the muscles and ligaments in the back strain and work double-time to keep you balanced. The first step in correcting this is to simply concentrate on sitting up straight and pulling your shoulders back and down when you’re sitting, standing or walking. Correcting your posture can feel odd at first because it’s not a position our bodies have become accustomed to holding. But practicing over time and holding your back in healthy posture will eventually become second nature. Consider these helpful tips:
Sit up straight in a chair with your hands on your thighs and your shoulders down. Pull your shoulders back, squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat this three or four times daily to strengthen those back muscles used for perfect posture.
Look at yourself in the mirror until you become more comfortable with the feel of good posture. Glance at yourself in the mirror when you have the chance to get a good visual of your stance, and adjust your shoulders down and back accordingly. Some people even find it helpful to imagine a string down the center of their bodies from the ceiling to the floor, “pulling” their head upwards to keep a long and straight spine.
Most of the time, back pain develops not from acute injuries but from the strain of everyday activities and the improper use of body mechanics. Fortunately, we know maintaining an aligned posture and strengthening core abdominal muscles can work wonders on evening the stress on the back, relieving pain and preventing future occurrences. Incorporate these tips into your daily routine and wave farewell to low back pain.