From the category archives:

Exercises

Plain and simple, standing up, sitting and lying down would not be possible if it weren’t for the vertebral column. Made up of the vertebrae, the nerves (including the spinal cord and nerve roots) and the soft tissues (including invertebral disks, muscles, ligaments and spinal fluid), the spine, when working properly, allows pain free activity and rest.

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When thinking of your core, consider the area around your trunk and pelvis. When you have good core stability the muscles in your legs, hips and buttocks, lower back and stomach work together. Strong core muscles make it easier to do most everything – stand, sit, recreate, run up stairs. Core exercises help you strengthen the muscles in your trunk and pelvis. They also help your balance, since the core is also your center of gravity.

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Keeping muscles strong enough to support the body’s weight is the main goal in preventing back injury. A large but sometimes underused muscle mass are the abdominals. Weak stomach muscles can lead to slouching or swayback. In order to stand upright and keep the back in proper alignment, the muscles of the abdomen need to remain able to support a great deal of weight.

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Performing exercises to elongate and strengthen the support muscles of the spine can help prevent back pain and injury. When muscles in the legs and back are tight and/or weak it can cause lower back pain. Muscle strain (muscles that are torn or overstretched) is a problem that most adults experience at some point in their lives.

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Core strength – people sometimes think that the term core strength means strong abdominal muscles. Actually, core strength not only means strong abs, but the back as well. There are many different muscle groups involved in keeping us upright and well-aligned. Practicing core strength produces good posture. This means that the vertebrae are sitting properly on top of one another and the nerves of the back (including the spinal cord and the nerve roots) are not being pinched or otherwise irritated therefore reducing or eliminating back pain and injury. Simply, strengthening the core means toning and lengthening the stomach, back, hip and leg muscles.

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The lower back is the area that has the burden of carrying most of the weight of the body. As muscles are overused they can become fatigued and less able to provide the support necessary to keep the back in its proper alignment. Muscles and ligaments both support the boney structure of the back called the spinal column. Overused muscle can lead to back strains (torn or overstretched muscle) or back sprains (torn ligaments). In many cases, inflammation will occur to protect the strained/sprained area. Inflammation can lead to muscle spasms and other back pain. Weakened muscles leave other parts of the back susceptible to injury.

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Proper spine alignment (proper posture), whether it be sitting, standing or lying down, can reduce the severity of an episode of back pain or eliminate it altogether. Proper posture means lining up the vertebrae so that the natural curve in the spine is realized. This is also called neutral alignment. Neutral alignment can be obtained by evenly strengthening the core. People often think of abdominals as the core, but a good core workout will include work on both the stomach and back. Strong muscles are the body’s defense against the strain of gravitational pull and defense needs to come from both at the front and the back.

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The legs are large muscle masses that are meant to take on a lot of weight. When the legs are strong, they are able to take on much of the weight that the back would otherwise have to carry. The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of the thigh that if tight, can actually exacerbate back pain. Elongated hamstrings allow the legs their full range of motion which allows the body to stand upright and in proper posture. Tight hamstrings can lead to swayback.

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Strengthening the back muscles is just as (if not more) important as abdominals when it comes to maintaining back health. The spinal column runs along the inside and has muscles at both the front and the back to support it, so naturally both sets of muscles should be toned. The lower back takes on the brunt of the body’s weight while sitting and standing. The vertebrae in that part of the back are larger to accommodate this weight, but there is still a higher risk of lower back injury because of this burden. Every day use, such as lifting, twisting and bending can fatigue back muscles and, over time, be the cause of short term problems (acute pain), such as a back strain or sprain, or long-term conditions (chronic pain), such as herniated disks, osteoarthritis, or less frequently spinal stenosis. While most all American adults experience back pain at some point, maintaining good back health can decrease or eliminate it altogether.

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Preventing back pain or maintaining an already strong back can mean fewer doctor visits, less medication and less missed activity. Back pain is the second highest reason Americans call in sick to work after the common cold. Having the strength needed in back muscles is just one step in a healthy back. Knowing the biomechanics of the back can also help keep a back injury-free. What is proper posture? How does the back interact with the neck, buttocks, or legs?

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The back carries the weight of the head, neck and body. Strong and properly elongated back muscles allow for good posture, which in turn can help to prevent back pain and injuries. Additionally, because the back carries the weight of the body, tension can gradually build that could lead to chronic conditions such as herniated disks. Disks that provide cushioning for the vertebrae can bulge out from between and cause inflammation or muscle spasms. Emotional distress can also lead to subconscious tension being held in the muscles. Releasing tension can not only prevent back injury, but it can also ease pain from already injured areas by strengthening and lengthening the muscles. The Cat and Camel stretch is great for releasing tension in the lower back:

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