Low back pain is one of the most common health complaints. As much as four out of five adults will experience significant low back pain at some point in their lifetime. There are many causes of low back pain, however, the most likely cause of low back pain is a muscle or ligament strain and a general lack of movement.
To rule out other more serious conditions, it's always a good idea to consult a physician or a physiotherapist well versed with low back problems like Shawn Williams.
Muscle and ligament strains occur when the strength and fitness of our low back and core muscles is not good enough to keep up with activities of our daily living. Muscles get fatigued or they cannot produce enough tension to maintain good form and as a result ligaments get overstretched which then causes pain.
It becomes clear now that in order to protect low back and avoid injuries, we need to work on improving low back and core fitness, but also learn how to move properly and control that strength and fitness to our advantage. Knowing how to press, pull, carry and pick heavy objects from the ground while maintaining proper spinal alignment is just as important as building fitness.
Low back and core muscles work together to stabilize the spine and allow proper movement. In fact, low back muscles are classified as core muscles because of their close relationship with other core muscles. Many people think of core as a six pack or this one specific muscle they need to strengthen when actually core consist of all muscles that run the entire length of your torso. We have core muscles on the front, back and side of the torso working together to stabilize the spine, shoulder girdle and pelvis. This provides a stables base of support for your arms and legs to produce powerful pressing, throwing, jumping and pulling movements.
Nem's workshop at Amsterdam Brewery on a topic of low back strengthening and injury prevention.
To build a strong and functional core, you want to include a variety of exercises that challenge the core muscles in different ways. Include movements such as trunk bending (e.g. crunches), holds (e.g. front plank, side plank) and rotations.
Depending on your current fitness levels and pain intensity, you might need to start with core exercises performed lying down and focus on proper motor control and activation first before moving to more advanced core variations. You’ll need to learn what the neutral position really is and what it feels like to have this neutral spine position. Performing a variety of exercise lying down like dead bugs, McGill crunch and learning how to “draw in” will teach you just that.
From here you’ll move to different plank variations like a front plank and side plank. Once these exercises become easy, you’ll move to more advanced plank variations where you’ll learn to properly brace your core and keep proper spinal alignment while moving arms and/or legs. For example, try holding a front plank position and then lifting opposite leg and arm at the same time. Do you tilt to one side? Are you able to keep balance and keep whole body relatively straight?
At this stage we can start to include standing and half kneeling positions that involve resisting external resistance. An example of this exercise is pallof press where you obliques and other core muscles resist trunk rotation.
And finally the last stage of core conditioning include dynamic exercises performed at varying speeds and using external objects like medicine balls and dumbbells. Some examples include standing cable rotations and half kneeling medicine ball throws.
TRAINING TO MAXIMIZE CORE FITNESS AND PREVENT LOW BACK PAIN
If you are not sure where to start, I’m providing you with a five exercise sample core routine that you can try right away. This routine will challenge your core musculature from different angles and planes of movement for a complete training effect. The recommended number of sets and repetitions are just an example and you’ll want to adjust these parameters based on your current fitness levels and pain intensity. Slight ache in low back is fine as long as there is no sharp pain present. On a pain level scale from 1-10 with 10 being the most excruciating pain you every experienced, we want to stay withing 1-5 zone.
You can perform this sample routine 2-4x/week that consist of the following five exercises:
1. DEAD BUG EXERCISE (2-3 sets, 8-15 repetitions/side)
2. FRONT PLANK (2-3 sets, 10 sec hold, 3-8 repetitions)
3. SIDE PLANK (2-3 sets, 10 sec hold, 3-8 repetitions)
4. LEG LIFTS (2-3 sets, 8-15 repetitions/side)
5. CABLE ROTATIONS (2-3 sets, 8-15 repetitions/side)
OTHER WAYS TO KEEP YOUR LOW BACK HEALTHY
In addition to exercise and getting core muscles stronger, there are other things you can do to ensure low back health:
- Massage therapy can provide a significant pain relief. Find a knowledgeable and reliable registered massage therapist who is experienced in dealing with low back problems. Check out Harbourview RMT!
- Weight management - excess weight will put more pressure on the spine and increase likelihood of experiencing some type of low back disorder.
-Proper nutrition - aside from weight management, healthy nutrition will provide you with all the nutrients your body needs to function at its best and support recovery.
-Stress management - stress has been linked to heightened pain response. In other words, reducing stress levels alone can reduce pain intensity. This has to due with the fact that pain is affected by many other things aside from tissue damage.
- Sleep - our bodies heal when we sleep. Ensuring you are getting 7-9 hours of high quality sleep every night will help tremednously in getting rid of low back pain and improving core fitness.