Back pain. Don't we love it. We sit too long in one position...back pain. We stand all day at work...back pain. We have an injury or herniation...back pain. We have bad posture...back pain. You know what? It's just not funny. One half of all working Americans admit to experiencing back pain every year. It is the single most common reason for missed work and is the second most common reason for visiting the doctor's office. In fact, Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain and that's just for the more easily identified costs!! Houston we have a problem. If experts are estimating that 80% of the population will experience back problems in their lifetime, then people, we've all got a problem.
So how do we combat this? How do we prevent this? Strengthen that back!! And we are not just talking about the back muscles. Instead I want you to imagine an Ace bandage being wrapped around an injured knee. The bandage doesn't just make circles around the knee but instead it is wrapped in multiple directions to guarantee stability. The same is true for the spine. With back pain there is a weakness in the spine so all the muscles in the core need to be strong to bring stability to the spine. One muscle group cannot overpower the other. That is why Pilates is so darn exciting. One of its main objectives is to create a body where all muscles are strong and balanced, not emphasizing one side or muscle group over the other. That being said let's take a look at some exercises that are going to put us on the path to a pain free back!!
The ol' Bird Dog. This guy is great. Start on hands and knees. Make sure your knees are under your hips, hands under shoulders. Spine is going to be in neutral, so that means straight without arching spine down to floor or up to the ceiling. Head is looking at the floor so the back of the neck stays long (feel spine extending a foot past your head). Keep chest lifted and not collapsing down onto shoulder blades. Alright we are ready to kick it. Engaging those abs (yes I still want you tightening that corset and pressing abs up to spine...NOT SUCKING IN ABS!!) extend opposite arm and leg out until they are parallel to the floor. Hold for 2 seconds, then slowly return to starting position. Repeat to other side. The slower you take these the better. I want you to imagine you're weightless, floating in space. Arm and leg slowly drift out and then drift in at the same tempo. Start with 10 of these and work up to 40/day.
The bridge is an amazing exercise that focuses in on those lovely abs, hamstrings, gluts, and obliques. Lay naturally on the floor with legs bent and arms by your side. Breath in. As you exhale, press your lower back into the floor and begin to lift your hips slowly up to the ceiling, articulating through each vertebrae at a time. Breath in at the top. Abs should be engaged like crazy, pressing abs down into the spine, ribs are closed (think of that corset!! This is very challenging for most people to keep ribs closed up in that bridge!!), and don't over squeeze your gluts (you want to be rocking this bridge from your abs). Next exhale and take 'er down, still articulating through the spine like laying down a pearl necklace onto the floor. Pelvis comes all the way down. That's one. Also try lifting the pelvis only two inches off the floor (everything else is the same). These are called pelvic tilts and are SOO good for you!!! Start with five and eventually work up to 30/day. Taking them slow and controlled!!
Time to rock out those abs. Lay on your back, feet on the floor with knees bent. Lay naturally. Without moving spine close your ribs, pressing chest down towards your hips, engage and press abs down towards the floor, neck and shoulders stay relaxed. Bring one leg at a time into table top (legs bent and in the air with a 90 degree angle at the hips and knees). Drop your right toe down to touch the floor, then return back to table top. Repeat other side. SO SO SO important your lower back does not lift up off the floor!!!! This could really hurt your back so use extreme focus for this exercise. Exhale as you lower that pointed toe and if you can't go all the way to the floor without lifting your back, then only bring your toe half way down. Start with 10 sets/day and work up to thirty.
These three exercises are game changers when it comes to getting past back pain, but I will say it takes consistency to see lasting change. Set a realistic goal every week (even if you start with doing exercises five minutes a day). And because of the nature of the beast, you HAVE GOT TO focus on engaging your abs like CRAZY when doing these bad boys otherwise I guarantee your back will start to ache and you will hurt yourself. These exercises are so good for you but only if you do them correctly!!!
Well cheerio!! Progress over perfection and remember this is going to take time!! When checking out the anatomy of your body, the spine is kind of a big deal, so realize it's going to take time to bring strength back to it. Consistency! Consistency! Consistency! If you are faithful to it, Pilates will be faithful unto thou! So persevere my friends! And if you don't have active pain right now, you should still be rocking out these exercises to strengthen that core and guarantee you won't become a statistic to the inevitable back pain!! Peace out til next week!!
1. Vallfors B. Acute, Subacute and Chronic Low Back Pain: Clinical Symptoms, Absenteeism and Working Environment. Scan J Rehab Med Suppl 1985; 11: 1-98.
2. This total represents only the more readily identifiable costs for medical care, workers compensation payments and time lost from work. It does not include costs associated with lost personal income due to acquired physical limitation resulting from a back problem and lost employer productivity due to employee medical absence. In Project Briefs: Back Pain Patient Outcomes Assessment Team (BOAT). In MEDTEP Update, Vol. 1 Issue 1, Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, Rockville,
3. In Vallfors B, previously cited.