As a physical therapist I learned early on to be PROACTIVE about my back health. I learned and saw how quickly a back injury can put the skids on activity, productivity, work, and confidence in movement. I am not here to tell you my back has never hurt in 57 years but if you could see all that I ask of my body, all the times I’ve fallen in nature and in workouts, moved heavy furniture, carried loads, carried 6 children and now grandchildren it is remarkable what a “non-issue my back has been. I LOVE my back and I can teach you how to do the same for yours.
“Hurting” your back is no respecter of age. Teenagers have back repair surgery. Twenty somethings call me all the time asking why their backs hurt and what to do. But through time our muscles naturally lose their supportive strength and disc bodies in the spine lose their full volume making injury even easier with a little age under our belts. This makes it even MORE crucial to have a long game plan to keep a healthy spine. Let’s face it, if our backs hurt we cannot exercise or walk or move. This is a death knell to staying active and in shape as we age.
A couple more things to consider before we get to the “how-to’s.”
~The low back (lumbar spine) is the most mobile and flexible part of the spine making it the most vulnerable to injury and disc herniation. In easier terms to understand, it moves a lot and has fewer ligaments protecting those discs to stay inside their safe zone.
~Also many people with chronic back issues have no idea that the real culprit is tight hip and leg muscles (hamstrings). So when they go to make a move or bend for something, no movement is possible in the hips and legs and the spine has to do all the moving. This is dangerous and not how good body mechanics are supposed to work.
~It is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to herniate a disc if you are using proper body position while lifting, no matter the weight of the load. Conversely, it is not only POSSIBLE, but likely you will hurt your back if you are lifting wrong…even something VERY VERY light. It’s all about the position.
So let’s get to the nuts and bolts of how and what.
It is remarkably easy and not that time consuming to create a strong flexible back. I have witnessed many examples of those who have chronically troubling low backs that have eliminated the problem with some SIMPLE exercises you can do anywhere. If you have been troubled with recurring back pain, take heart…this is often a very reversible situation in my experience. Undertake everything with caution and perform exercises only if they do NOT INCREASE your pain. Work your way up in repetition and duration. The exercises may look very simple (and they are) but they work magic!. You are building a strong girdle of muscle around the torso that protects what is inside. A side benefit is you will have some good looking abs and a well muscled back.;)
- ALWAYS hold the spine in an inward (lordotic) curve when bending and lifting. (See figure 1).Let me repeat ALWAYS. This means butt up, shoulders and head back!
- Three to five times per week perform the following exercises (on an exercise ball preferably- but not necessary) *Center Ab Crunch, *Back extension lift, *Side crunch both sides, *Rotation crunch. (See figures 2-5) (10-50 reps should do it)
- Lay 10 min daily (more if injured and flared up) in the prone press up position. (See figure 6)
- After laying do 10 arm press-ups. (See figure 7)
- In addition to these back exercises keep your hamstrings stretched and hip muscles (the gluts) stretched as well for the best outcome.
- EXTRA CREDIT for my over achievers 🙂 I like to add these final two spinal stretches a couple times a week just to keep my spine as flexible as possible while aging. I don’t want to wake up one day and find i am unable to bend. (See figures 8,9)
That’s it!! There is more if you want to build more strength but this is the maintenance and prevention protocol that should keep you moving and flowing well. Remember this may only take you 10-15 minutes in the morning or evening but consistency is the key so the back is taken care of. Shoot for a minimum of 4 times/week. This is how you stop the continual re-injuring and getting laid up. MOVEMENT IS A MASSIVE KEY TO AGING WELL. We must keep these bodies moving my friends. Do not give up! Even people who have been diagnosed with bulging or herniated discs, or disc degeneration are excellent candidates for this protocol. A painful back is no fun for anyone!!