End back pain-exercise your abdominal muscles
A key part of any plan to end back pain is strengthening the abdominal muscles. This is because the abdominal muscles (often called the core muscles) help to support the spine and upper body.
The abdominal muscles comprise the internal and external obliques (that run down the side of your waist), the rectus abdominus, that run down the middle of your abdomen (giving you a six-pack if you’re lean) and the transversus abdominus that wraps around your torso.
In all, there are 6 abdominal muscles
1-the rectus abdominus that lies lies close to the skin (also known as superficial, as opposed to a muscle that lies deeper). This is the six-pack muscle.
2-3-the external obliques, one on each side of your abdomen, also superficial. Help to rotate the spine. They also help you to bend to one side (known as lateral flexion).
4-5-the internal obliques, one on each side of your abdomen, lying deeper than the external obliques. Also enable spine rotation and lateral flexion.
6-the transversus abdominus that lies deeper than the rectus abdominus, wrapping around your abdomen. Helps to support your back.
In the diagram below, we cannot see the deeper muscles as they lie below the superficial muscles.
Woman's abdominal muscles
The abdominal muscles work to bend the spine forward. This is called spinal flexion. At the same time as the abdominal muscles are contracting when you bend forward, the back muscles are stretching. The rectus abdominus is the spinal flexor, while the muscle running down the middle of your back, the erector spinae, is performing the opposite action. This is why it is important to develop strength and flexibility in the opposing sets of muscles.
Exercising and hurting your back
When people think of exercising the abdominals, the first thing that comes to mind is sit ups. This may not be the best idea, particularly if you suffer from lower back pain.
Here are guidelines for reducing the chance of injury to your lower back:
1.Keep your back on the floor
An exercise like the crunch is safer than a sit up, because your lower back is supported by the floor.
2.Don't flex and twist at the same time
Choose exercises that involve only one plane of movement, flexing or twisting, not both. For example, crunches flex your body, while broomstick twists involve twisting your body. So they only perform a movement in one plane. Some exercises, like a twisting crunch, make you flex and twist simultaneously. This is also described as compound plane of movement exercise.
3.Use a smaller range of motion
This is a fairly important point, especially if you are starting out on an exercise programme. The smaller the range of motion, the less your chance of injury. So rather do a crunch where you only lift your body 25cm/10 inches off the floor than a sit up where you force your body to go through the full range of motion from lying down to sitting up at 90 degrees.
4.Keep your legs bent and closer to your torso
Performing leg raises with straight legs puts more stress on your back than bent leg raises. Also, doing crunches with legs bent will put less stress on your back than straight leg sit ups.
Lie on your back, bend your knees and bring your feet towards your hips. Put your hands behind your head, or fold them across your chest, as illustrated.
Tighten your abdominal muscles and raise your shoulder blades off the floor. Hold the position for 3 seconds, then lower yourself to the ground. Do five repetitions, rest for a minute, then do another five.
Try to increase the number of repetitions you can do each week. Eventually you should aim to be able to do ten repetitions in three sets.
Andrew de Bruyn is the author of 'Build your Back, Beat the Pain', a step-by-step plan to strengthen your back and beat back pain.
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