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Oh, My Achin’ Back

The reasons we get lower back pain and ways to avoid it.

In the civilian community, lower back pain is one of the most prevalent reasons that people visit their provider. The military is no exception to this fact. The lumbar spine (lower back from about hip level to tail bone) supports most of your body weight. It has a normal curve to it that helps distribute weight. Being that it takes the most of the punishment day in and day out, it’s no wonder that lower back pain is so common. When we are over our ideal body weight for our height it puts tremendous strain on our lower back. While the constant pounding just with regular walking and running can be a strain, exercise will help to keep your body weight to an ideal level thus the pounding the lower back takes is minimal.

Generally, we don’t lift correctly and this has severe consequences on our backs in the long run. When we lift with our back instead of our legs, that extra weight places more pressure on our lumbar spine to include our disks in between our vertebrae. Sometimes, we don’t want to ask for help to lift an object, thinking we can do it on our own, and most of the time we can. But to do this over and over again is detrimental.

Being in the Army and having to wear body armor puts more of a strain on our backs, but if we keep our weight within Army standards, the impact is really negligible. There are exercises and stretches we can do to strengthen our back muscles, tendons and ligaments.

The root of lower back pain is most often due to weak muscles. Muscles of the lower back, abdomen, and the buttocks all support the spine. These muscles are also the main defense against gravity, so strengthening the muscles that support the spine with back exercises, abdominal and buttocks exercises can prevent, reduce or may even eliminate back pain. Having strong abdominal muscles are as critical as strong back muscles for support of the lumbar spine. Strong quadriceps (front of thigh muscles) is important when lifting to prevent a back injury. If you lift properly, you must use your legs, and if your legs are weak, you may end up using your back instead. Shortened muscles can cause misalignment of the spine causing back pain. Stretching exercises lengthen shortened muscles and relieve back pain. Having tight back muscles, tight buttocks muscles and tight hamstrings (back of thigh muscles) or quadriceps may affect alignment of the spine causing pain. When we stretch these muscles, we increase our mobility of the joints of the spine.

As always, check with your medical provider before beginning any exercise program and ask him/her to give you the proper strengthening and stretching exercises for the back. And remember, quality is much better than quantity. When you exercise, doing the stretch correctly will be of much greater benefit than doing more repetitions. Also, your risk of injury increases greatly when exercise is done improperly.

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