by Dr. David Borenstein M.D. updated 9/2019
Back pain is extremely common with approximately 90 percent of people suffering with it at some point in their lives. Approximately $50 billion is spent a year seeking relief. Back pain is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost days at work, and it is one of the most common reasons people visit a doctor’s office or a hospital’s emergency room. Back pain isn’t a specific disease, but rather a message that something has gone wrong in the lower back or pelvic area, very often a strain or sprain or a muscle spasm.
In many cases, back pain will subside in a couple of weeks with rest, ice, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication. The good news is that many back-related injuries that cause pain can be prevented with a concerted effort to strengthen the core.
There is a lot of good advice about how to prevent back pain. For example, we should bend our knees when lifting something heavy, stand and sit up straight, stay active, maintain a healthy weight, and eat a nutritious diet. These are all important for our backs and for our general health. But the most critical part of a plan for a healthy back is exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the back, with a particular focus on the core abdominal muscles.
Tips for Core Strengthening
Some people connect the abdominal muscles with six-pack abs and don’t fully understand the more important role they play in supporting the spine and keeping us upright. Stabilizing the spine is necessary for movement and for preventing back pain. The abdominal muscles are the primary supporter of the spine. If the abdominal muscles are not strong, the muscles of the back have to work harder to provide the necessary support for the body. As a result of this extra work, they can become more vulnerable to injury. Developing stronger core muscles will improve the strength of your spine and minimize the probability that you will strain your back.
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Common abdominal exercises that will strengthen the core and help prevent back pain include:
- Elbow planks
- Abdominal crunches
In addition, specific exercises that develop and strengthen the transversus abdominis, the deepest of the abdominal muscles, which play an important role in stabilizing the lower back and pelvis, are also beneficial. Exercises that develop the transverses abdominis include:
- Abdominal hollowing
- Supine Leg Extensions
- Glute Bridges
- Quadruped Lifts, also called Bird Dogs
- Roll Ups
- Understand the Causes of Back Pain
We recommend our patients to do exercises to strengthen their back two or three times a week. We also encourage patients to work with a certified trainer or physical therapist, at least at first, to make sure that the exercises are being done properly and with good form, especially if an individual has already suffered a back injury. While back pain is one of our most common afflictions, it doesn’t have to be. Prevention is the best remedy. In our experience, if you are good to your back, it will take you long way without pain.