From diminished mobility and stability to musculoskeletal diseases and conditions, weak stabilizers contribute to many problems. Strong rotators and stabilizers are key to joint health and stability, but the kinds of exercises that help contribute to such strength are far from popular. For stability and overall core health, such exercises are important.
With most jobs in today’s society requiring workers to sit for long periods of time, even the gym-going crowd is lacking when it comes to joint health. As a result, our spines and lumbo pelvic stabilizers lack endurance, leading to chronic lower back pain and related problems. While core-strengthening workouts seem to make sense, they can actually do more harm than good. A leading researcher in spinal stability explains how, in his 2001 article in Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, entitled “Low Back Stability: From Formal Description to Issues for Performance and Rehabilitation” (29, 26-31).
Basically, the starting point of his assertions are that many injuries to the lower back occur during the performance of simple tasks, often due to the combination of such tasks with strenuous exercise activities. The result of buckling of a spinal segment contributes to cumulative back injuries, which are in turn caused by momentary reduction in neural activation to intervertebral muscles. In order to avoid such situations, the muscles surrounding the spine must be trained to stiffen it against buckling, when that buckling occurs.
According to McGill’s findings, spinal flexors must be endurance trained in order to enhance lumbar stability. When endurance, not strength, is built up, proper neural spine posture is achieved, encouraging the abdominal muscles to co-contract and functionally brace, stabilizing the low back. Such spinal stability training for those with lower back pain includes avoiding sit-up exercises, leg raises, or upper torso lifts off the floor. Instead, safe, effective exercises that contribute to spinal stability start with the horizontal isometric side bridge exercise, which is done from a knee-supporting position on the floor.
Other recommended exercises include the Bird Dog exercise (YouTube), which reduces stress on spinal segments while back extensors are recruited. Curl-ups or crunches (YouTube), not to be confused with full sit-ups with legs straight or bent, can be helpful in conjunction with the Bird Dog exercise. When the abdominal (6-pack) area is strengthened in conjunction with the back extensors, the balanced benefits contribute to spine health, rather than detracting from it.
Another beneficial exercise for lower back stability is the Cat-Camel exercise (YouTube), which works to reduce any current stresses on the spine. Both spinal health and core strength start with stabilty, not “great abs.” A truly healthful workout won’t strengthen one side of your core, while ignoring the complementary muscles; instead, it will contribute to endurance-trained muscles that support your spine.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com or call them at 202-223-8500.
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