3 Steps to a Stronger Healthier Back

The most common ailment to affect people to today, even more common than headaches, is low back pain. According to the American Chiropractor Association (ACA) as many as 80% of people will suffer from some form of low back pain, either chronic or acute, at some point in their lives. In fact, Americans alone spend nearly 50 billion dollars each year in order to correct this disorder. The good news is that most low back pain can be relieved or dramatically improved reduced following a few simple steps.

One of the most common contributors to low back pain is simply due to lack of strength in the core and lower back. Using a few exercises that can be performed at the gym and some at home can help address this problem:

Back Extension

  • Starting Position: Sit in the machine with the upper back pressed against the back pad. Flex the torso forward and move the body back to align the hips with the axis of the machine. Place the feet on the machine frame or foot supports. Grasp the handles or the sides of the seat.
  • Backward Movement Phase: Keeping the thighs and feet stationary, extend the torso (lean backward). Keep the upper back firmly pressed against the back pad. Maintain a tight grip on the handles or the sides of the seat.
  • Forward Movement Phase: Allow the torso to flex (lean forward) back to the starting position. Keep the upper back firmly pressed against the back pad and the thighs and feet stationary. Maintain a tight grip on the handles or the sides of the seat.

Bent-Over Row

  • Starting Position: Grasp the bar with a closed, pronated (palms down) grip wider than shoulder width. Lift the bar from the floor to a position at the front of the thighs using the first pull phase of the power clean exercise. Adjust the feet to assume a shoulder-width stance with the knees slightly- moderately flexed. Flex the torso forward so that it is slightly above parallel to the floor. Assume a flat-back torso position with the shoulders back and chest out. Focus the eyes a short distance ahead of the feet. Allow the bar to hang with the elbows fully extended. Adjust the position of the knees, hips, and the torso to suspend the weight plates off the floor.
  • Backward Movement Phase: Pull the bar up toward the lower chest or upper abdomen. Keep the elbows pointed away from the sides of the body with the wrists straight. Keep the torso rigid, back flat, and the knees in the same flexed position. Touch the bar to the sternum or upper abdomen. At the highest bar position, the elbows should be higher than the torso.
  • Forward Movement Phase: Allow the elbows to slowly extend back to the starting position. Keep the torso rigid, back flat, and knees in the same flexed position. After the set is completed, squat down to return the bar to the floor.

Bent Knee Sit-up

  • Starting position: Assume a supine position (back facing the ground) on the floor or a mat. Flex the knees to bring the heels near the buttocks. Fold the arms across the chest.
  • Backward Movement Phase: Flex the neck to move the chin to the chest. Keeping the feet, buttocks, and lower back flat and stationary on the mat, curl the torso toward the thighs until the upper back is off the mat. Keep the arms folded across the chest.
  • Forward Movement Phase: Allow the torso, then the neck, to uncurl and extend back to the starting position. Keep the feet, buttocks, lower back, and arms in the same position.

Another all too common contributor to lower back pain is due to a lack of flexibility often due to lack of exercise, a job requiring extended period of sitting, and old injuries. Here are a few Stretches to help address these issues:

Stretch #1

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Place your bands on the back of your thighs and pull your legs toward your chest.
  • Pull until a gentle stretch is felt.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 9 more times.

Stretch #2

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Keeping your back flat on the floor, rotate your hips to the left, lowering your legs down to the floor until a gentle stretch is felt.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 9 more times.
  • Keeping your back flat on the floor, this time rotate your hips to the right, lowering your legs down to the floor until a gentle stretch is felt.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 9 more times.

Stretch #3

  • Lie on your stomach.
  • Prop yourself up on your elbows extending your back.
  • Start straightening your elbows, further extending your back.
  • Continue straightening your elbows until a gentle stretch is felt.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 9 more times.

Stretch #4

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Push the small of your back down and into the floor by tightening your lower abdominal muscles.
  • Hold for a count of 10.
  • Return to starting position and repeat 9 more times.

The last step, and arguably the most crucial for a healthier back, is recognizing good and bad posture. Given that many of us work jobs that require extended periods of sitting, this step virtually everyone can improve on. Here is a tip to achieve better posture and potentially have the greatest effect on your lower back health…Lose the Chair! It is no secret that nearly all office chairs are mediocre at best in supporting good posture. With their sleek design and comfortable arm supports, who wouldn’t want to a go about their work day in a lazy boy? Unfortunately office chairs today are simply not built with back health in mind. Although comfortable, these chairs offer little benefit for supporting a strong core. One solution has come with the use of a stability ball or Swiss ball as a replacement for your chair. The added challenge of balance offered by the stability ball means proper spinal alignment is virtually impossible to cheat. Using the ball as a chair, forces the user to break the habit of slouching by positioning the pelvis underneath the core in order to stay balanced. It is recommended, however, that you phase in this chair replacement as this can initially be tiring for the muscles responsible for holding the spine in proper alignment. For more information on exercises, stretches, and other tips on low back health please feel free to contact Will Paton.

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