Exercises for a strong and pain free spine
Everyone is at risk for back pain. Estimates are that 80% of us suffer from it at some point in our lives and we spend billions of dollars every year in search of relief. Back pain is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost days at work and it is one of the most common reasons to visit a doctor's office or a hospital's emergency department. The trouble may be a dull, nagging ache or a sudden sharp, stabbing pain.
“Back pain is a signal that something has gone wrong,” says Dr. Kaliq Chang with Atlantic Spine Center, “usually a strain or sprain or muscle spasm, which can occur when the muscles and ligaments that support the spine are stretched or torn. The injury may appear to have been triggered by unaccustomed movement on the playing field or while lifting a heavy object, but it is typically years or even decades of neglect that have weakened the muscles and made injury practically inevitable. Fortunately, many of these injuries can be prevented by building a strong core that stabilizes the spine and keeps it healthy and pain-free.”
The spine is a remarkable, complex structure designed to support the entire body. It is made up of bones (vertebrae) stacked on top of each other, with jelly-filled discs that act as cushions between the vertebrae. While the bones of the spine serve as the supporting frame for the back, it is an intricate system of muscles and ligaments – especially the core muscles of the abdomen and back – that provide the strength to keep the body upright and allow flexible, pain-free movement. When these core muscles are in poor condition, additional stress is applied to the spine as it supports the body and back injury and back pain are more likely.
“There are any number of measures you can take to strengthen your back,” says Dr. Chang. “They include maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet, bending your knees when lifting a heavy object, paying attention to proper posture, and staying active. These are all important for your back and for general health. But the most critical component of a plan for a healthy back is a regimen of exercises that strengthen the muscles that support the back, particularly the core muscles.”
The best exercises for strengthening and stabilizing the spine engage all the core muscles of the abdomen and back. They include elbow planks or side planks, abdominal crunches or curl-ups, push-ups, and bird-dogs. Yoga and Pilates are also good for developing core strength as are specific exercises that develop the transversus abdominis, the deepest of the abdominal muscles and one that plays an important role in stabilizing the lower back and pelvis. Spine-strengthening exercises should be done two to three times a week and a regimen should be developed only in consultation with a doctor, physical therapist, or certified trainer.
Stretching and exercising the back regularly will increase blood flow to the spine, which reduces stiffness and promotes healing. “Unlike the muscles in the arms and legs, our core muscles don’t get much of a workout during most daily activities,” says Dr. Chang. “They need a dedicated, regular regimen. You’ll find that the more you move, the better you will be able to move and the less likely you will be to injure your back.”