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Finding Fitness With Lower Back Pain

The number of USA emergency room visits, pain medication orders, injections, imaging studies, and surgical interventions directed at lower back pain continue to rise.  I frequently meet people who report their fitness efforts have been hampered by low back pain.  I have five recommendations that can help fitness clients with lower back pain have more success in the gym.

#1 Do not exercise first thing in the morning:  Ergonomic experts have found that many more industrial lower back injuries happen in the morning.  The theory is that the discs in the lower back imbibe or gain fluid overnight and are more likely to deform with a physical challenge.  Give your lower back one or two hours of walking around time before starting an exercise session.

#2 Isometric strengthening of the spinal stabilizers:  The function of your “core” muscles is to limit movement of the lumbar spine and pelvis.  Stop all crunches, toes to bar, sidebends, sit ups, seated twisting, and learn how to perform bird dogs, side hovers, Pallof press, planks, and carries.  Compliance with this single hint would reduce USA expenditures on lower back pain dramatically.

#3 Enhance the function of your hip flexors and gluteal muscles: Please cease all the forward spine flexion, toe touching, spine twisting activities.  Greater lumbar spine range of motion is associated with more–not less, lower back pain problems.  Learn how to foam roll and mobilize the hip flexors and gluteal muscles.  Prolonged sitting and most popular “cardio training” deadens these muscles.  Properly functioning hip flexors and gluteal muscles keep the pelvis stable and take stress off the lower back.  Reawakening dormant gluteals and hip flexors is the magic that resolves long term lower back pain.

#4 Focus on single leg strength training:  Ditch the front loaded hip hinges–deadlifts, cleans, snatch, and drop the loaded squats.  Swear off the lower lumbar deranging leg press.  Reduce spinal compression and train the legs, one at a time.  Single leg training reveals the right / left side movement asymmetries that drive lower back pain.  Resolving these asymmetries and sparing the spine goes a long way to abolishing back pain.  You will need some guidance on exercise selection and execution- this brings me to #5.

#5 Get some help:  Exercise is the most powerful medication on the planet.  Nothing else comes close.  Take the proper dose of appropriate training and the results will be amazing.  Take the wrong dose of an inappropriate activity and the results can be devastating.  This is especially true for people with a history of lower back pain.  Find a qualified physical therapist to guide you through your fitness journey.  One way or the other, you are going to spend time and money on your health.  Proactive spending is always cheaper and more beneficial than reactive spending.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

 

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