Experts estimate 80% of the population will experience back pain at some point in their lives.
The average person’s spine flexes (bends forward) about 3500 times a day, yet in contrast, it only extends about 5 times a day (talk about an imbalance!).
To help prevent back pain and injury, you should be training your back muscles (including the lattisimus dorsi, the erector spinae, the serratus, the quadratus lumborum, and even your gluteus medius) as often as your abdominal muscles.
Regular exercise offers so many wonderful health benefits — lowered risk of disease, weight management, better sleep, it can even help treat depression. But it’s not without risk, especially if you find yourself in pain afterwards. If you are a regular exerciser and experience back pain on a consistent basis, your favorite workout may just be the culprit. That’s why we asked Dr. Yoav Suprun, PT, Dip. MDT, CSCS, owner of SOBE Spine and back pain specialist (he often treats healthy and fit patients who have injured their backs due to exercise), to explains how to do the following activities properly to avoid throwing your back out of whack:
Sitting on a bike can cause the ligaments in your spine to become weak and the discs in the lumbar spine may slowly move backward, which can often cause stiffness, pain or discomfort. And, if you sit in an office all day, why sit on a spinning bike for cardio? If you spend most of your day sitting, go for cardio activities that keep your spine upright (such as the elliptical, walking or running) to help balance the stress of slouched posture.
But if you do love the bike, Dr. Yoav says there are a few things you can do to avoid back pain:
1) Make sure your bike seat is in proper position (ask your instructor for help with this during class) and raise the handlebars to help alleviate some of the forward bend during the ride.
2) Before getting into the saddle, do a 5-6 back extensions, and then for about every 10 minutes of your ride, try this “slouch-over correct” exercise: arch your lower back as much as you can by performing an anterior pelvic tilt (picture pressing your belly button forward). Repeat 15-20 reps. “Try to move into the stiffness and not slouch away from the stiffness,” he explains.
3) After the ride, do 5-6 more back extensions to help realign your spine. Stick with three cycling sessions a week max, and cross training with other activities like swimming, running or hiking on alternate days for a healthy back.
Boot camp, Cross Fit, P90X or Insanity style exercises
“In my office I see a lot of patients who got injured from classes where fast execution of the exercises combined with heavy lifting is performed,” says Dr. Yoav. “The common denominator is injuries from poor execution, bad form and fatigue.” To help prevent injury (of any kind), don’t rush the exercises, remember less is more and keep perfect posture at all times. And, if you aren’t confident about your form, try working with the trainer who teaches your class to learn the moves before jumping into a class or session.
Often touted as a way to relieve back pain, it’s not uncommon to experience discomfort in your back or leg pain (sciatica) with yoga. “My patients often come to me injured and upset; asking ‘ if it’s so great for me, why do I keep getting injured?’ If you had a previous injury, some yoga postures or movements could be re-injuring that area,” explains Dr. Yoav. If you find yourself leaving yoga class with back pain regularly, or your pain turns on as you get home, your best bet is see a specialist to find out the root cause (see a McKenzie therapist in your state by visiting www.mckenziemdt.org).
Pilates is another method that often advertises itself as a solution to back problems, but it could be exacerbating past or existing back and neck issues. “Ever done Pilates and felt like your neck weighs a ton?” asks Dr. Yoav. “Well, often protrusion and flexion of the neck (as in looking down at your phone while texting or staring at your laptop monitor with a stretch out neck) can cause derangements in the cervical spine. A derangement is a disruption in the resting position of the spine and it is often accompanied with pain as well as stiffness,” he explains. Often, the best way to correct this is to perform a few repetitions of this neck retraction exercise before (and after) most supine mat exercises: retract your head (“as if someone you don’t like is trying to kiss you,” explains Dr. Yoav) hold for a few seconds and then release. Try 10-15 repetitions to see if it affects your discomfort.
Learn more about what could be causing your back pain and how to resolve it on your own! Check out Dr. Yoav’s “Treat Your Own Back” DVD (watch a clip here) and visit his website sobespine.com. To learn more about the McKenzie Method for the treatment of back, neck or extremities pain, visit www.mckenziemdt.org.