Also, certain exercises can help improve the recruitment pattern of your muscles — in other words, the order in which your muscles fire in order to work together harmoniously.
The muscular imbalances mentioned above can throw this recruitment pattern out of synch. For example, research has show that people without back pain contracted their Transversus Abdomnis (TVA) 30 milliseconds before any shoulder movements and 110 milliseconds before any kind of lower extremities movements. It has been found that individuals with back pain are often unable to activate their TVA this quickly.
So here's the part you've heard before: Exercise is key to improving this coordination between the TVA, diaphragm, deep multifidus and pelvic floor muscles — commonly referred to as your core strength. A familiar term, right? Well, it's also an important one when it comes to using exercise to get your muscles firing in the proper order.
So now that you know what needs to be done, here are a few suggested exercises that may get you on your way to a stronger, pain-free back:
Single leg slide: Lie down on your back, bend your legs and place towel under your right foot under a sliding surface. Draw in your abdominal wall. While keeping your abdominal wall contracted, slowly slide forward the leg, without your lower back losing the contact to the floor. Before your lower back comes off the floor, slide the leg back to its starting position. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Single leg lift: Lie down on your back on the floor. Lift both of your legs off the ground, and bend them 90 degrees so that your lower legs are horizontal to the floor. Lower one leg to the floor, just as far as you can without lifting your back, and bring it back to its starting position. Remember to keep your abdominal wall drawn inward throughout your execution of this move, and repeat on each side 15 times.
Modified plank position: Starting from a push-up holding position, place your elbows and your knees on the floor so that your body is supported evenly. If you have access to a mirror, look at your body from the side, ensuring that your hips are aligned with your shoulders and your ankles. Hold this position for one minute. If you feel comfortable with this position, lift your knees off the floor for an even more effective exercise.
Kegel exercises: These are for men and women alike — yes, for you gentlemen as well. It's simple enough; think about the muscles you would use if you were stopping yourself from peeing. When you contract these muscles, you should be able to feel the activation in the pelvic floor. Practice this, and try to keep this activation while exercising.
Inward drawing of your abdominal wall: By simply drawing your abdominal inward, as what naturally happens when performing a squat with heavy weights, your TVA will be activated and create an internal belt in your body. This simple action adds stability in your spine, helping to recondition the proper activation of the TVA throughout upper and lower extremity movements.
In addition to exercise, keeping an eye on your nutrition and your stress levels can also help banish back pain. Other reasons for your back pain might be deformations of the spine because of external forces, or certain aging processes. But this is another article on its own.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to maintain a functioning body; you need to keep moving and stick to an active lifestyle.
There is no one-stop shop for a pain-free body. It will take commitment, patience and research to receive the reward of a body free of back pain.
Stefan Aschan is the owner and founder of www.stefanaschan.com, which provides nutrition and exercise programs in New York City.