Reducing or Preventing Back Problems

Since injuring my back a few months ago I have learned about relieving or eliminating back pain, or strengthening the back. So I pass on some tips.

My problem started this past January mainly from one day running 7×50 meter sprints about 95% speed indoor on a hard rubber track, and then aggravating it by snow shoveling in January, February and early March, even with the assistance of a kind neighbor.

Back problems are very common and affect nearly everyone in a lifetime. It is the most frequent problem for chiropractors and physiotherapists, and a very common reason for visiting the family doctor. A weak back does not take a proper share of a load and consequently other parts of the body are overworked and hence injured, as in my case my right hip.

There are dozens of back exercises to choose from, but many will cause further problems. I found there are good back exercises and bad to relieve or eliminate back pain or strengthen the back. After a lot of research and experiment on myself and advice by physiotherapists, I have arrived at the recommended exercises below.

Good and safe back exercises are:

1. Hamstring stretch with a towel or placing a straight leg on a small bench.

2. My physiotherapists and many others recommend lying on the back and raising both bent knees gently to the chest or raising a single leg gently to the chest. Hold for 5 seconds, and repeat 5 times, once or twice per day. If you have a back problem do the double leg exercise before exercise.

3. Another popular exercise is the “lumber rotation stretch”—lie on back with both knees bent 90 degrees and arms outstretched to either side, and lower knees to the ground as far as you can gently, held for 5 seconds, return to neutral. Repeat 5 times on either side, 2 times of day. Keep shoulders in contact with the floor throughout.

4. Cat and camel stretch: On hands and knees move gently into the humped back cat position with head down, hold for 10 seconds. Move gently into the hollowed back position with head up, hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

5. Seated in chair and hands behind head, rotate to the right above the waist, keeping the core square. Hold for 10 seconds. Rotate to left. Do 3 to 5 times twice per day. A good exercise while at the computer.

6. Pelvic tilt. I have been practicing this every morning for decades. It also strengthens the abdominals and also awakens the intestines on arising in the morning. If you are not familiar: lie on your back, breathe in raising your stomach, hold for 5 seconds, then lower your stomach so your back contacts the bed, hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 30 times.

7. Lateral leg raise—while lying on your side with hand under head and elbow for support, raise the outer straight leg about 18 inches, hold for 2 or 3 seconds, repeat 10 times. This reduces strain on the back and also works the abductors which supports the pelvis. I also like this since I have a sore muscle in this abductor hip region.

8. Some bad but popular exercises for the back, particularly for a weak back are listed as below. A bad exercise will speak to you through your back at exercise time or a day or two later. I do not go into detail with these exercises since they are to be avoided.

Bad for back exercises are:

The Superman, the Plank all kinds, the Sphinx, the Bird Dog, Sit Ups, Straight Leg Lifts, Crunches or Curls, and Alternate Toe Touches while bent over (an oldy).

A weak back can lead to overuse of other muscles such as muscles in the hip area. But a strong core can help prevent back problems. Or a weak core results in the back muscles working harder, taking on an excessive share. Crunches, straight leg lifts, the planks for instance can cause a sore back. But the following are safe core exercises to strengthen the core without aggravating the back:

1. “Floor March”: Lie on back with 90 degree bent knees and feet 3 inches from buttocks. Raise one leg bent at 90 degrees, with quad vertical and shins parallel to the ground. Hold for 10 seconds. Lower slowly. Repeat 3 times each leg.

2. “Double Leg Abdominal Press”: Similar to above. Lie on back with 90 degree bent knees and feet 6 inches from buttocks. Raise quads to vertical and shins parallel to the ground. Activate the abdominals by pushing with knees and pulling with hands on the quads. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 3 times.

Other exercises but not as effective are pushups and also standing on one foot for 10 seconds, next to a wall or table in case of imbalance. I do about 36 pushups most nights before bed but still need further core strengthening.

I also like the wall sit exercise as it is easy on the back and works gluteus and leg muscles, but not the core. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat about 3 to 5 times between rests of about 30 to 60 seconds. I often do 35 squats with the big Swiss ball between a wall and my back. It is also easy on the back.

Keep the following in mind while doing these exercises:

Stop immediately if there is discomfort.

Take note the next day or 2nd day after if there are sore muscles which indicates too much or inappropriate exercise.

A heated pad before exercise or warm shower on the back area exercised is useful before the back exercise.
Start gradual and work up to more intense over a period of time.

The above will help with back problems, or those who might want to prevent back problems in the future. Besides it is something useful to do at this home isolation time.

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