Low Back Pain and You

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Back Pain
A demonstration of the McGill push-up Kathlyn Hossack

Low back pain is one of the world’s most prevalent musculoskeletal complaints. Recent statistics estimate that 21.7 million people are affected by it globally on an annual basis. That’s a lot of us, and back pain creates one of the biggest drains on the healthcare system across North America. 

Chances are you or someone you know has suffered or is suffering with back pain. Low back pain is most commonly caused by poor movement habits, postural deficiencies, long periods of immobility, or repetitive movements. Often, it’s a combination of all four. These are the culprits behind many other low back related complaints, such as sciatica. 

I’ve seen my fair share of back pain complaints coming from those in all walks of life. What I’ve also seen is how simple most of these cases are to alleviate and prevent. The following are a couple of my favourite strength exercises if you deal with back pain.

First off, wall angels. Lean against a wall with your feet about a foot in front of you and your knees slightly bent. Tilt your pelvis so that the entire spine is touching the wall from the hips to the shoulders. Then move your arms back so that they touch the wall from the shoulders to the wrist. Your back may pop off the wall here. Correct it before continuing. Next, slide the arms up and down the wall, or up and down in front of you, keeping your shoulders active. Repeat this ten times, doing it frequently throughout the day. You’ll feel the muscles between the shoulder blades working, but this does wonders for stretching the low back and correcting posture through the entire spine.

Another common exercise is called the Cobra. It’s an excellent workout to integrate into your daily routine, as it reverses the flexion motion—which anyone working in manual labour does a lot of. Using your arms, push yourself up to the level that feels comfortable and lower yourself back down. Breathe in as you move up, and exhale as you come down. Repeat this 10 to 15 times.

Now let’s get that core working. The key point in core activation is not to “suck in” but to brace the muscles in the torso by pushing them out or bearing down. Let me introduce you to the McGill curl-up (you can find video demos on YouTube). Lie on your back with one knee bent and the opposite arm overhead, pushing or bracing the core muscles with the other hand. You should feel the abdominal muscles “pop” into your hand at the hip as if you were laughing vigorously or coughing. Curl the chest off the ground with core activation. Repeat this movement ten times per side, three times daily. If you practice the brace throughout daily movements as well, such as lifting, bending, and twisting, you’ll notice a decrease in low back discomfort. 

If you’re suffering from acute low back pain that is severe in nature or new to you, seek advice from your movement and healthcare practitioner for a thorough assessment. Pain is there to tell you something, not to be ignored.

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