Pat Henry: You can do it, put your back in to it
We lose more work days due to back pain than any other injuries. This is due to the sedentary lifestyle we lead and it is no wonder that the back can be weak. The truth is that you need more than a strong back to prevent back injury. It is clear that many people who develop back problems not only have relatively weak lower backs, but they also tend to have weak abdominal muscles. Although the abdominals do not directly attach to the spine, their interaction with the fascia layers of the erector spinae group enhances the otherwise weak extensor mechanism of the spine.
By making the abdominals stronger, you thereby enhance the functional effect of the spinal erector muscles. This being so, strong abdominal muscles indirectly make the spine muscles stronger, and weak abdominal muscles indirectly make the spinal muscles weaker.
By supporting the internal organs of the abdominal region, the abdominals also assist the spinal muscles indirectly by taking up some of the demand for support that would otherwise be placed upon them by the internal organs and viscera. The larger the potbelly, for example, the greater the weight and strain it will put upon the spine.
Also, for every extra inch on your waist, there is 10lbs of pressure added as your potbelly is pulling you forward and increasing the strain on your discs or spine. This can leave you very vulnerable to back pain.
Abdominal exercises should always be done with the hips and knees flexed. Unfortunately, sit-ups performed with the legs straight can put undue stress on the spine and also serve to strengthen the wrong muscles (for example the hip flexors). If these muscles become relatively too strong and too tight, postural problems can occur that further aggravate back pain.
One way of doing abdominal strengthening exercises is to lie on your back on the floor, with arms folded on your chest. Hips and knees are flexed and feet stabilised, either under a heavy object or by someone holding them. The lumbar spine is completely flattened so that it touches the floor.
Contract the abdominal muscles to the point where the trunk is just lifted off the floor and hold this position for five seconds. Repeat the exercise 10 times, three times a day.
This exercise can be made more difficult by adding decline to the surface (with the head at the lower end of the board or bench). By fully flexing and at the same time slowly rotating the trunk with the head to the knees, kinetic endurance can be built up in all the abdominal muscle groups.
For the reader who would like a more challenging abdominal exercise, hanging leg raises are excellent. Hanging from a bar, tilt your head backwards and lift your knees to your chest for three or four sets of 15 repetitions.
Lie on your back on the floor, knees bent, heels close to the buttocks. Contract the abdominal muscles and flatten the lumbar spine. Tighten the buttocks. At the same time, raise the buttocks just off the floor. Hold for five seconds. Repeat 10 times three times a day.
STRETCHING AND STRENGTHENING
A fine back-stretching exercise is hyperextension. The gentlest form of this exercise can be done lying face down on the floor, arms extended in front of the head. For the first phase, keeping your head on the floor, gently raise your legs towards the ceiling. Try to keep the legs as straight as possible and hold for three seconds. Three sets of 15 repetitions will keep the back strong and flexible.
The second phase of the exercise is completed by reversing the axis of movement so that the feet remain touching the floor, thus raising the trunk towards the ceiling. Once again hold the raised position for three seconds and repeat the movement for three sets of 15 repetitions.
Additional exercises, if necessary, will depend on the specific type of back problems experienced and areas of weaknesses which may have been discovered.
Attention to posture, correct lifting techniques and appropriate strengthening exercises will go a long way towards minimising back problems.
It takes more than a strong back to prevent injury, says Pat Henry, so get working on those abdominal muscles and you might never need a sick day again...
Health & Living