Back injuries have fast become the most common injury suffered today and they can also be the most debilitating. Issues can range from soreness and stiffness to excruciating pain. If you are experiencing pain or stiffness it is recommended that you consult a GP or physician to get the correct diagnosis before starting any rehabilitation program.
Lower back pain is one of the most common injuries and health problems in society today and causes considerable disability, work absenteeism and the use of many health services.
Back pain is said to affect up to 80% of all people at least once in a lifetime, with many people suffering repeated episodes throughout their lives.
It is important we are educated with the tools to first rehabilitate our injuries utilising preventative exercises and stretching routines into regular practice to eliminate back pain from our life.
It’s one thing to treat a sore or injured back but once you find the cause it’s about putting a program in place to successfully prevent this from happening again.
Prevention programs are far more enjoyable and less painful than any rehabilitation program.
Apart from stress, the biggest obstacle getting in the way of someone wanting to achieve a health and fitness goal is injury or pain, with back pain being the number one culprit.
Back pain can be the result of trauma from a fall or a car accident but most often back pain is the result of everyday activity performed incorrectly. Injury is also common due to stress, poor posture from sitting too much, poor nutrition, lack of exercise and being overweight.
Strengthening muscles is important but just as important is stretching and having flexibility as well as increasing muscle endurance. Muscle endurance can take some time but muscles under fatigue are more prone to injury, which is important to remember.
Stretching, strengthening and endurance go hand in hand.
When strengthening the back, and protecting our core muscles, we must understand the importance of the posterior chain (these muscles run from behind the knee to the midway point of our back). The posterior chain relates closely with our core and we generate a lot of power from this region of the body.
Most of our useable force and strength comes from our core muscles but a weak posterior chain can lead to back pain, shortened hip flexors, weakened core stability and less effective athletic function.
Some key muscles that are part of the posterior chain to focus on include the hamstrings, glutes and erector spinae.
Furthermore, I think we all know by now the importance of core strength with lower back stability but our hamstrings and glute muscles also play a major role.
Our core muscle groups are made up of the Transverse Abdominis (TVA), Rectus Abdominis (RA) and the Internal and External Obliques.
And while 6 packs (RA) may look good, it's far more important to work the TVA through abdominal exercises to achieve spinal stability rather than just focusing on our exterior appearance.
So how do we train for core strength and stability?
It’s important to remember while working dominant muscle groups (agonist) it’s just as important to work the opposing muscle groups (antagonist).
While dominant muscles will strengthen, their opposing may lengthen and weaken unless both muscles are exercised.
Therefore, it is so important to have balance with your training, which is why core strengthening is just as important as your posterior chain work, as they both work together in creating a strong and stable lower back.
Here are some great floor exercises to strengthen and support the lower back and core:
- Wall sits
- Split body weight squats
- Bird dogs
- Prone plane pointer
- Pelvic floor tilts (lifts) or hip thrusts
- Single leg bridge
- Floor superman exercises
- Front and back bridges
- Swiss ball jack-knifes
- Swiss ball hip extension planks
Swimming, pilates and walking are also great for strengthening the body while adding great muscle endurance with little to no impact on the skeletal framework and joints.
Some great floor stretches are:
- Seated one leg hamstring stretch
- Truck rotation
- Lying knee twist
- Floor prone stretch
- Piriformis seated stretch
- Scorpion stretch
Remember, these exercises and stretches have been chosen to support both postural and active core strength and stability. Gaining functional back strength and better muscle tone doesn’t require heavy weights.
Solely using your own body weight and a few simple exercises practised on a regular basis to help strengthen, stretch and condition your body is all you need.
Now, while these exercises won’t get you on the cover of Muscle and Fitness they are going to allow you to build a strong posterior chain, a strong core and add flexibility and endurance to your lower back, which long term will help support greater physical development without injury.
Some key points to remember:
- Use slow smooth controlled movements
- Be careful how you lift. Bend from your knees not from the waist and always carry heavy objects close to your chest between your waist and shoulders
- Maintain a correct posture as this will allow you to maintain the natural curves of your spine and keep your back strong
- Try to eat a balanced diet. Carrying excess weight around the abdomen distributes weight to the front of the spine, which negatively affects its alignment. Excess anterior (front) weight causes you to lean forward to compensate for the extra weight distribution and as a result of this, you can overload the discs in the spine.
Finally, if you smoke here is another reason to give it up.
Smoking can cause narrowing of blood vessels, which can result in less oxygen and nutrients reaching the spine. This can leave your muscles malnourished and weak with a far greater chance of injury.
Committing yourself to at least 3 days of strengthening and stretching exercises into your weekly exercise regime can be completely life changing. Keeping muscles strong and joints mobile is the key, as physical exercise can help ease inflammation and muscle tension, which can relieve pressure and pain in the lower back and will help you live a healthy pain-free life.
Remember, don't be short sighted...
Creating a stronger core will allow for heavier resistance training to be added to your current training program, which can lead to more lean body mass.
It’s the preparation of building the foundations to the human body that allows us to achieve our ultimate physical goal. So whether you want to be a strength athlete, a bodybuilder, Crossfit athlete or just be more accomplished at your chosen sport, ensuring you give time to prehab work is critically important for long-term health and performance longevity.
Like building a house, the footings and foundations allow a premier house to be built that can withstand any weather conditions. The body should be looked upon the same way.
Let your body be treated like your temple, built on strong foundations of strength, flexibility and endurance so it can withstand anything we throw at it throughout our lives.