Oct. 16, 2007 -- At one time or another, we will all experience pain in our body. And for many of us, that pain will come in the form of twinges, aches and soreness in our backs.
Of course, back pain is a very broad term that can refer to any number of specific regions in your back. In this article, instead of the terminology, we will look into possible causes and solutions of back pain. And most important what you can do to prevent or to improve back pain when you have it.
More then once, clients who come to me for my Strength 123 training program want to jump right into it. However, many times after a pre-program body analysis I have found patients with back pain caused by imbalances in their muscular system.
My first step is to find out what might have caused this client's back pain. In short, I need to determine when the back pain started and which movements might be the reasons.
Keep in mind, though, that there are many factors that can cause back pain. Here are just a few that I have encountered over and over again (keeping in mind, of course, that a comprehensive list of possibilities would probably be too long for this article!):
Monotonous movements: Think about a cashier at the supermarket. Is he or she pushing items from one side to the next, day in and day out? Most likely, an imbalance will be created in the internal and external obliques and in the lower back musculature, which includes the erector spina, multifidus and gluteus.
Through the same rotation over and over again, one side will develop a stronger musculature while the other side will become more elongated — and therefore weaker. Those are imbalances that need to be considered.
Now for golf players, this concept of imbalance may ring a bell. Yes, playing golf might be a cause of lower back pain as well. Ask Tiger Woods about his workout program; I am positive that he works with a very skillful athletic trainer who understands this concept and how it will influence his training program.
Uneven hip position: Who would have guessed that how you carry your wallet could have implications for your back? Strange, but true.
Some guys like to carry their wallet in their back pocket, sitting on it at their desks for long hours. By simply doing this for a couple of months, you can significantly alter your hip position. Specifically, you will be shortening the lower back musculature on the side where the wallet is carried and elongate the opposite side of the lower back musculature.
Carrying bags on one side or shoulder: Many back and neck pains are created because of carrying heavy bags over one shoulder. Yes, I know we're all on the run and we need take our kitchen, living room and bathroom with us. Unfortunately, this is causing muscular imbalance that affects our skeletal system, primarily our spine. It is not uncommon that individuals therefore have curvatures of their spine to either to the right or the left side, therefore effecting the hip position and lumber spine.
Solutions to Back Pain
So now that you know some of the causes behind back pain, how can you go about banishing it?
First, try to analyze what might have caused the back pain by recalling when it started, considering some of the possibilities mentioned above. When you can determine the cause of the pain, it is easier to correct the situation to find immediate relief.
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.
Exercises to Perform
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.