Did you know that low back pain is the single leading cause of disability preventing people from engaging in work and other daily activities? Back pain is also the most common reason for missed work and experts say up to 80% of the population will experience back pain at some point in their life. These symptoms are usually brought on by mechanical issues rather than organic. This means that you can help solve your problem.
Low back pain has been extensively studied and there are just a few exercises you can do everyday to help prevent it.
Stuart McGill who is an expert on treating low back pain created these exercises and he named them the McGill Big Three. They are meant to create stability in the spine because according to McGill, a main contributor to low back pain is instability. So these exercises help create a strong core that creates a foundation of support for the rest of your back.
Why is stability important?
Think of a mast of a boat with all the ropes coming off of it. The mast is tall and sturdy. It needs to be to create the support for the sails to pull from and move the boat. Now imagine the mast as your spine and the ropes that are connected to the mast as your core muscles. If some of those ropes are weak compared to the others, the mast could start to bend in different directions. This bend in the mass could create instability. Now if one big gust of wind comes, the mast could break. Think of that as an injury. If all your core muscles aren’t strong, when you go down to pick something up, you may injure your back. These exercises are meant to target every core muscle so you have a strong brace all the way around your abdomen.
The first exercise is called the Bird Dog. To perform this exercise, get down on your hands and knees. Now lift your right arm and your left leg up. Push your hand forward like you are trying to touch the wall in front of you. Do the same with the leg. Push your heel toward the wall behind you. Now come back down onto your hands and knees again. That is one rep. Do three sets of these with 15, 12, and 10 reps. Make sure to switch arms and legs.
The bird dog is an important exercise because it is training your body to be able to brace your core and move your body at the same time. The body is meant to always have a brace when the extremities are moving. Studies have shown that people who have chronic low back issues turn on their core muscle later than someone who doesn’t get back pain.
The second exercise is the side plank. Lay on your side with your legs straight and your arm under you. Then raise yourself up and hold that position. Hold for about 15 seconds and then come back down. That is one rep. Do this three times and hold for 15, 12, and 10 seconds. Make sure to do both sides.
This exercise is used to help strengthen your oblique muscles. It is important to be able to stabilize in the coronal plane (from side to side). For example, you want to be able to keep a straight stable posture when you are carrying eight bags of groceries with one hand and fumbling with your house keys with the other.
McGill Curl Up
The last exercise is called the curl up. For this exercise lay on your back with one leg flexed toward your butt and the other straight out in front of you. Put both of your hands under your low back to keep the natural curve your spine has in the low back. Now lift your self up a couple inches until your shoulder blades are off the ground. Hold that position for about 10 seconds then come back to the start position. That is one rep. Do this three times holding for 10, 8, and 6 seconds.
This is one of the best exercises to strengthen the rectus abdominis. It may be very difficult at first, but slowly you will be able to hold this position for longer and longer.
And that’s it!Three exercises to help strengthen your core that could help reduce low back pain. Make sure with every exercise you are really focusing on bracing the core. Core endurance is more important than core strength when treating the low back. Instead of being able to do 100 sit-ups try to strive for holding the plank and curl up for longer amounts of time. This endurance will make sure that every single time you need your core to turn on, it has the ability to brace and hold your spine steady.
Dr. Valerie Fantino
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