This month on Hawaii News Now Sunrise, we’re taking the time to look at three of the most common kinds of back pain and what you can do to alleviate it.
A little background to get things started: The spine is composed of three main regions, the lumbar spine (the lowest 7 vertebrae), the thoracic (the middle 12 vertebrae) and the cervical spine (the top 5 vertebrae leading up in to your neck).
You can see in the illustration here that the spine general has somewhat of a backwards “s” or undulating shape as it works its way up through the body. Back pain generally occurs when we begin to chronically distort that shape either through injury or bad habits.
This morning, we’re kicking off the back pain series with a look at lumbar back pain, pain occurring in the lowest part of the spine. In any given week, the number one thing we see when folks come in complaining of back pain is an excessive anterior tilt, forward tilting, of the hip bone. When we’ve been standing or carrying heavy objects for long periods of time, instead of maintaining a good posture of slightly bent knees and neutral hip position, many of us tend to sink into what initially feels like a more restful posture. We lock out our knees, over arch our lower back. This generally takes pressure off our muscles, allowing them to rest, whie the bones of the legs, hip and spine take over and hold us up. The problem here is that excessive anterior, or front, tilting pelvis strains lower back muscles by leaving them contracted for long periods of time and overly arching the lower back. This is what leads us to lower back strain and even sets us up for pulled hamstrings. (when the back of the hip is tilted up and the front of the hip is tilted down in this posture, it pulls at the hamstring attachments in the pelvis, artificially tightening and lengthening them.) The other thing this does is to stretch out and weaken the abdomen while tightening the hip flexors (muscles in the front of the legs). With all this going on, the bottom line is, we’re creating all manner of imbalances around the base of the spine. Imbalances in our joints generally lead to pain & discomfort. This is particularly true here.
So what do we do about it? The key to regaining proper hip tilt and mitigating this kind of back pain is going to be stretching out the tight spots and strengthening the weak ones. Key areas for us, those tight hip flexors on the front of the legs and the weak, overly stretched abdominals.
Stretching the hip flexors: Steve was kind enough to demo one of my favorite hip flexor stretched for us. I’m also going to post a link to Mayo Clinic’s top 10 stretches for basic hip flexor flexibility here.
As far as strengthening the abs, we talked about planks.
Like I said in the video, for my money there isn’t a better, more functional and natural way to strengthen the abs. There are several ways you can make the plank harder or easier. For example, Steve showed up the harder variant by planking on the elbows. I’m demonstrating a slightly easier version by coming up on my hands. They key is to adjust any exercise you use to your own fitness level.
Next week we’ll be taking a look at common causes of thoracic spine pain and how to strengthen against it.
As a follow up to last month’s osteoporosis workshop, we have two more events coming up at the end of June.
Osteoporosis Workshop Level I: Preventing or Delaying the Onset of Osteoporosis
Wednesday June 27th at 6pm at Pro Fitness Training Studio in Kakaako
Osteoporosis Workshop Level II: Strengthening Against the Effects of Osteoporosis and Osteoporosis Related Injury
Friday June 29th at 6pm at Pro Fitness Training Studio in Kakaako