According to the American Association of Neurosurgical Surgeon an estimated 75 to 85% of all Americans will experience some form of back pain during their lifetime. Both genders are equally affected and for some people surgery will be necessary, for others steroid injections or anti inflammatory medication will be necessary, and for some the pain could be alleviated just by exercise and stretching.
Causes of Back Pain
The spine is made up of 24 bones called vertebrae that support much of the weight of the upper body. These bones are connected by ligaments and muscles forming the spinal column, which holds the spinal cord, a bundle of nerves connecting the brain to the rest of the body. Between each vertebra there are rubbery disks that act like shock absorbers and prevent the bones from grinding against each other.
There are several reasons for back pain: it can be caused by muscle or ligament strain from carrying heavy loads; by bulging or ruptured disks pressing on a nerve; by osteoarthritis where the protective cartilage at the end of the bones wears down over time; and by osteoporosis where bones become brittle leading to fractures. Other causes are sitting for too many hours which leads to shortened and tighten hip flexors and hamstrings; improper posture which places stress on the back muscles; excess body weight which adds strain to the muscles and ligaments; lifting improperly by using the back instead of the legs; and accidents and falls.
Over ten years ago I had to stop running because of a throbbing pain shooting from my knee upward every time I tried to run. This pain also affected my back. I visited a specialist who gave me anti inflammatory medications, prescribed physical therapy and told me not to run for a month. After a month of following the doctor prescription, I tried running and the pain came back immediately.
What eventually healed the pain was starting to stretch. I was surprised that the solution was so easy and yet nobody had suggested it. Since then I stretch regularly and now I can tell when my pain is from tight muscles. Last month however I had a back pain in my lower right side that I could not get rid for 4 weeks, even though I kept stretching. What finally healed it was 3 weeks of yoga, even just once a week, because it included stretching new areas and holding even when it was very uncomfortable. Recently the pain came back, this time deep in the front on the right thigh. It was still the psoas muscle, which runs obliquely from the spine to the femur. Daily stretching, much of it targeting the area, has helped get rid of the pain again.
Exercise as a Solution
Before I was a trainer, I would have dealt with the pain by running to the doctor and asking for medications. But personal experience and seeing client’s various pains disappear with strengthening and stretching exercises, has made me a firm believer in exercise to heal many maladies. Of course always visit a doctor first to rule out any serious problems.
Exercise increases strength and endurance and allows muscles to function better, while flexibility improves range of motion allowing better movement. Together they can help prevent pain from returning. Do exercises that target all the major muscles, and avoid muscle imbalance injuries by working opposing muscles. If you work on the quadriceps (front of the thighs), work on the hamstrings (back of the thighs) as well; If you work on the chest, work on the upper back as well. For the back include exercises for the upper back, such as the row, for the lower back, such as the plank and deadlift, and for the back sides, such as the lat pulldown. Whether you join a gym or take yoga classes, avoid back pain by staying at a healthy weight and remember to stand with “chest out and shoulder back” for good posture and to instantly look taller and leaner. With that said, now I am going to covermy favorite back strengthening exercises.
BACK STRENGTHENING EXERCISES:
A good exercise for the upper back is the row, using the cable machine or dumbbells, an option for those that want to exercise at home. Set the pulley on the cable machine slightly higher than shoulder level and attach a D handle. Facing the cable machine, grab the D handle with the left arm, take few steps back to create tension and stand with the right leg forward. With the palm facing in, pull toward your body till the elbow is past the waist, pause and return to an almost straight arm.
BACK STRETCHING EXERCISES:
Stretch 1: Place the hands, shoulder width apart, on a filing cabinet or counter top. With a slight bent to the knees, and legs close to the cabinet/wall, bend at the hips and push the chest toward the floor. Walk the legs away, leading with the butt to feel a stretch in the upper and middle back. Try different heights and at the gym you can use the Smith Machine barbell with both an over and an underhand grip. Hold 15-20 seconds.
About the Author
Aris Akavan, ACE certified Personal Trainer & Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, is owner of Body Fitness by Aris. Her mission is to assist others in leading a healthier lifestyle by balancing exercise and proper eating habits to achieve the ultimate body & mind wellness. Aris leads by example as she practices what she preaches. She leads an alcohol free and smoke free lifestyle and has worked out while following proper nutrition practices for over 10 years. In the last few years she also started participating in 5k races, adventure runs and triathlons. You can visit Aris at any of her following: