Carol B. Espel, MS, program and wellness director at the Pritikin Center for Longevity in Miami. In 2012, she was named “Fitness Director of the Year” by the World IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
Back pain: It’s become a reality for many people as poor posture, excessive sitting, and slouching have had deleterious effects on the back, core, and hips. While exercise is undoubtedly healthy, it’s important to take special care of your back.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can work through the pain, believing it’s due to muscle inactivity. Working through pain leads to poor form and exercise execution and, in the end, leads to serious and chronic injury and more pain. It’s important to ease into exercise slowly, and to heal, strengthen, and stretch the back and core muscles first. You can then start to add exercise and activities that are appropriate, effective, and safe.
Bracing the core muscles (primarily the abdominal and oblique muscles) is critical to alleviating back pain when standing. An easy way to activate the “brace” is to take a deep breath in and then exhale fully. At the end of the exhalation, to expel any remaining air, forcefully exhale, making a “huh” sound. This will tighten and tone the abdominal wall. Supporting your body posture this way sets you up for painfree movement, activity, and exercise. The following exercises are gentle and safe for people with back pain.
Start and end each session with this exercise. Start on all fours. Inhale as you round your back up like a cat, fully contracting your abdominals. Drop your chin into your chest and look at your belly button. Try to stay there for two to four counts. Exhale as you slowly lengthen your spine, lifting your head up and out, gazing slightly upward, and arch your back. Stay for two to four counts. Slowly repeat as many times as you enjoy.
Start on all fours. Look slightly forward and down. Brace your abdominal muscles and then slowly and fully extend your right leg straight back. Return to the starting position. Next, slowly extend your left arm in front of you, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Complete one to three sets of six to 12 repetitions on each side.
Lie on your back. Place both hands behind your head, lightly supporting it. Let your elbows drop and open out, as close to the floor as possible. Bend both of your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Contract your abdominals in and down as you slowly lift your entire torso off the floor. Return to the floor completely. This should be a small movement. Your focus must be up toward the ceiling throughout the exercise. Complete one to three sets of six to 12 repetitions.
Lie on your back, with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place both hands on top of your pelvis. Better yet, place a foam block on top of your lower belly and pelvis. The purpose of the foam block is to make sure both hips are pressing upward equally, avoiding one side dropping lower than the other. Lift both hips off the floor, squeezing the gluteal muscles, but not arching the rib cage. Return to the starting position. Complete one to three sets of six to 12 repetitions.
The key to long-term success for better back health involves a daily commitment to performing regular back and core strength, flexibility, and mobility exercises. Enjoy doing the things you like to do with greater ease, freedom of movement, and joy.