Sunday, May 22, 2011

exercises for back problems

I have 3 squashed discs in my lower back from a skateboarding injury. I've tried everything for back pain. Before I share what works for me, I'll say that if you don't have a structural injury you probably just have very weak "core" muscles and the best thing you can do is get into a general state of good fitness and then add in some core strengthening exercises.
After doing tons of PT, and trying everything from yoga to pilates to accupuncture to cyclobenzeprine, I figured out three main exercises that strengthen the muscles in the lower back:
- "superman": lay on your stomach on the floor. raise your left arm and right leg up at the same time. hold for a count of five. repeat on other side. do this 10 times for each side.
- "planks": this is like a pushup but you're on your elbows and instead of doing a pushup, you just hold in that position. It sounds easy but is very hard if you don't have strong abs. try to work up to 3-5 sets of 60 seconds at a time.
- "bird dog": like the superman but you're on your knees and hands, doggy style. raise left leg and right arm at the same time, hold for count of 5. alternate. do 10.
Those three things, and being generally in shape have helped my back more than anything else I've tried. You can find videos of them on youtube if you google those exercise names with "core fitness" or similar search strings added in.
Other lifestyle changes are good, too. Don't sit down in a pile for 8 hours at a time. Get up and move around, even if you're just getting out of your chair at least once an hour. Change your position. Sit on an exercise ball for a while, lie down on a couch with a laptop for a while, work standing up for a while. Go for a walk at least an hour a day.
I've found that pilates is much better for back care than yoga. many of the yoga moves are not good for your back if you have slipped discs. in particular, "downward dog" which is the staple move of most yogas is not good if you actually have a back injury like mine. Pilates arose out of rehab so most of the moves are safer for your back. I mention these activities because one of the side effects of back problems (or sometimes the cause of back problems) is very tight hamstrings. You'll need to do some sort of stretching to get the hamstrings back in order and I've found this easier to do in a structured, class context.
I'll be semi controversial and say that you want to have strong abs, but you DON'T want to do situps. do planks instead. Situps strengthen your abs while pulling your back into the same position that makes it hurt. planks strengthen your abs but you're also extended and working all your stabilization muscles at the same time.

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