By Kevin M. DuPrey, D.O.
Back pain is one of the more common problems I see as a sports medicine doctor and is the number-one reason causing disability from work. There are many causes of back pain, but the most common are muscle strain/spasm and herniated (bulging) discs, which can lead to pain that shoots into your buttock or down your leg when the surrounding nerve gets irritated. Here are some tips to keep your back healthy.
Strengthen Your Core
You use your core muscles to stabilize yourself – not only when exercising, but constantly. They keep you from falling over when just sitting here reading this blog. They include not only your “six-pack muscles,” but the many muscle groups that surround your trunk, lower back, hips and pelvis. There are many exercises that you can do to strengthen your core that can be learned from a physical therapist, personal trainer or the internet. Some basic and safe starter exercises include “6-inches,” where you lie on your back and raise your feet 6 inches above the ground then hold. Another exercise is called the “plank,” which involves lying on your stomach, pushing yourself up on your elbows and toes, then holding this position. The current world record for “planking” is 8 hours and 1 minute. But please just start with 30 seconds, and build up from there.
Lose the Gut
Maintaining a healthy weight is not always easy, but it can go a long way to keep your back healthy. Extra weight puts increased stress and strain on your lower back can predispose you to injury. Gradual weight loss through a balanced and healthy diet and regular exercise are always recommended over crash diets – which tend to be temporary.
Having tight muscles, especially the hamstrings, which run from the pelvis down the back of the thigh to your knee, can increase your risk of back injuries. A simple stretch for both your lower back and hamstrings involves bending over to touch (or try to touch) your toes and holding for 30 seconds.
Lift with your Knees
Stop lifting with your back! We’ve all heard this one before, but it’s tough to break old habits. Most disc herniations happen when bending, lifting and twisting. Bending at your knees instead of your back when lifting is especially important to limit stress on your back.
Hopefully, these tips can keep you and your back happy, healthy and doing all the things you love doing, like showing off your planking skills.
About the Author
Dr. DuPrey specializes in sports medicine and enjoys working with patients of all ages and abilities to allow them to return to the activities they enjoy in the safest and most effective manner. His holistic approach is to look at the whole picture and help prevent future injuries.