Plus, four best exercises for your back
Have you ever experienced lower back pain or a twinge in your glutes or down your leg? Have you been diagnosed with Osteoarthritic changes? Perhaps you’ve experienced a bulging, herniated or slipped disc, or stenosis of your spine? Or do you simply want to avoid these uncomfortable issues from occurring?
Then read along as we unpack the science behind the Back-Health Program that I designed exclusively for Wysefit, along with four key exercises from the program.
I find the importance of core stability emphasized a great deal in the wellness community right now. However, there seems to be considerable confusion as to what core stability is, and why we need it. As a physical therapist with a specialty in the area of spinal health, I think the best way to explain core stability is muscle tone that surrounds the trunk from the pelvis and hips, and up to the shoulder blades and chest. It’s important to emphasize muscular endurance, rather than just the strength of these core muscles. Because much like the trunk of a tree, our trunk supports our moving arms, legs, neck, and head for long periods of time — hopefully giving them a stable base of support to prevent injury. When these muscles have low endurance, it can lead to back pain, muscle spasm, bulging or herniated discs, or injury to our arms, legs, and cervical spine.
Anatomy of the Spine
The muscles which surround and give support to our spine are comprised of a series of 33 joints. However, our spine is completely different and more complex than other joints in our body. It’s made up of 33 bones or vertebrae, and intervertebral discs or shock absorbers that comprise a flexible column with complex muscular and ligament support. These discs have a gel-like center and a tough, fibrous outer layer meant to bulge in all directions. This is what gives them their ability to act as a shock absorber for the spine (which houses the spinal cord and the lateral nerve roots). They, in turn, control all of our muscular functions, including breathing and walking.
The lumbar spine has a natural curve (or lordosis) that occurs naturally because the lumbar discs are thicker in the front than in the back of the spine. It’s vital to maintain this natural curve, also known as the neutral spine, during exercise or lifting/loading. If you don’t, the thicker anterior portions of the lumbar bones/vertebrae come together and squeeze the front of the disc causing the gel-like like center to bulge backward. Doing this repeatedly can break down the fibrous outer wall and cause a disc bulge, herniation, or back muscle spasm. Have you ever had the painful experience of “throwing your back out” performing an everyday activity like bending over to tie your shoe or lifting a box? These simple movements are examples of what I’m talking about, and it happens to the best of us.
Finally, we know that there are changes in the amount of fluid that the gel portion of the discs contain at any given time of the day. Much like a sponge absorbs water, our discs absorb a great deal of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) when we lay down to sleep at night. This fluid dissipates as we are on our feet and as the vertebrae push down on the discs throughout the day. Science has shown that to improve disc health and height (which can increase the opening or lateral nerve roots to exit the spinal cord without any interference or pain), simply changing the spinal position from vertical to horizontal for 15 minutes can help tremendously. This is why each class in our program is about 15-minutes long.
So, here are the scientifically-proven, key elements of this program:
- Emphasis on muscular endurance, rather than the strength of core muscles.
- For the majority of the population, stability exercises have been proven to be more effective than stretching exercises for range of motion.
- Importance of maintaining a neutral spine in the low back/lumbar spine during repeated forward flexion, loading, and strengthening exercises. This prevents the backward bulging of the discs, which can lead to injury. Also, we stay away from exercises that emphasize repeated flexion of the spine to “strengthen” it (i.e., sit-ups, leg lifts, flat back, “c” curve, etc.).
- Exercising in a horizontal position, rather than vertical when possible to take advantage of disc refill.
- As with any exercise program, you need consistency to achieve and maintain results — five times/week to improve, and three times/week to maintain.
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