We all are susceptible to lower-back injuries. Whether you're military, law enforcement, an advanced athlete, a beginning exerciser or a sedentary person, we all get back injuries of some sort.
The back injuries seen most in doctor's offices and chiropractic clinics worldwide involve the lower back or hip region and can occur from various causes. According to chiropractor Steve Erle of the Maryland Disc Institute, most injuries in the region involve lower-back muscle pulls or tears, disc inflammation or the spine.
These three types of lower-back injuries can occur from falling, stretching, lifting, sleeping in an awkward position or, in some cases, for no noticeable reason at all. Usually, all occur due to lack in flexibility and balance of the hip, abdominal and lower-back muscle strength.
Each of these injuries seems to manifest themselves in the form of the back spasm, which is the body's way of immobilizing the injury to prevent further harm. Heat, ice, anti-inflammatories, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, painkillers and muscle relaxers can treat these injuries. Some studies have experimented with Botox to relax the spasm so the patient can function better and with less pain.
One of the most interesting studies I have heard related to the effectiveness of the following three treatments:
Electrical stimulation and massage
Bed rest and pain killers
Nothing but stretching
Strangely, all had about the same full recovery period. The "Lower Back Plan" (PDF) discusses and illustrates preventative exercises and stretches to strengthen the torso and create balance between the hips, abdominals and lower back. These three muscle groups often oppose each other and must be equally flexible and strong in order to prevent injury in one or the other.
Many advanced athletes may have strong abdominals but have neglected to exercise the lower back. This can stress the lower back since abdominals will flex while the lower back stretches. If the lower back, legs and hips are not flexible or strong, the lower back will pull involuntarily, usually causing spasms.
The following stretches will help create flexibility. There are more exercises and workouts you can follow from any of the eBooks in the Military.com Fitness eBook store, or you can surf the internet and go to a favorite site of mine for sport injuries, www.sportsinjurybulletin.com. You can learn about almost any injury and get free tips to prevent them there.
Knees to chest
Bring your knees to your chest as shown. You have the option of pulling your knees closer to your chest with your arms and relaxing your upper back and neck by lying your head on the floor as well.
Hamstring stretch #1
From the standing or sitting position, bend forward at the waist and touch your toes. Keep your back straight and slightly bend your knees. You should feel this stretching the back of your thighs. The lower back is affected directly by the hamstrings. Usually if your hamstrings are too tight and you cannot bend over to touch your toes, your lower back is also inflexible, weak and waiting to be injured.
Lower back hamstring stretch #2
Spread your legs while standing. Drop your chest down to your knees and place your hands on the floor. Hold for 10 seconds, then try to straighten your legs slowly.
Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Bend your right knee and place the bottom of your foot on the inside of your opposite thigh. With your back straight, lean forward in order to stretch the back of your legs and your lower back. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds, switch legs and repeat.
Lower back twists
Lie on your right side with knees bent as shown and slowly twist your torso so your shoulders are flat on the floor. Try to keep your knees stationary.
The following exercises are the ideal non-weighted ways to strengthen the lower back. If you ever have injured your lower back, you probably did these exercises in rehabilitation after the surgery or injury. Doing any physical therapy exercise as part of your daily lower-back routine is always smart and safe.
Lower back exercise
Lie on your stomach with your arms extended over your head. Lift your right arm and your left leg off the ground at the same time and repeat for 20-30 repetitions. Switch arms/legs and repeat.
Lower back exercise -- swimmers
Lie on your stomach and lift your feet, knees and lower thighs off the floor by flutter-kicking repeatedly as if you were swimming freestyle.
Upper back exercise #1 (arm haulers)
Lie on your belly with your feet on the floor. Lift your chest slightly off the floor and wave your arms from your sides to over your head for 30 seconds. Lift your feet and knees off the floor, and your lower back, hamstrings and rear end will flex and strengthen.
Upper back exercise #2 (reverse push-ups)
Lie on your stomach in the down push-up position. Lift your hands off the floor instead of pushing the floor. This will strengthen the muscles of your upper back that oppose the chest muscles. Rear deltoids and rhomboids are the muscles used. Lift your feet and knees off the floor, and your lower back, hamstrings and rear end will flex and strengthen.
Upper back exercise #3 (birds)
Lie on your stomach with your arms spread to the height of your shoulders. Lift both arms off the floor until your shoulder blades "pinch" and place them slowly in the down position. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions mimicking a bird flying. Lift your feet and knees off the floor, and your lower back, hamstrings and rear end will flex and strengthen.
The workout routine below will help build balance in the torso and help you build strong stomach and back muscles. These exercises for the lower back should be part of any abdominal routine you undertake.
Upper back, lower back/abs:
Arm haulers 10
Reverse push-ups 10
Knee to chest stretch 1:00
Hamstring stretch #1/#2 1:00
Hurdler's stretch 1:00
Torso twists 1:00
Good luck with the core injury prevention or rehab program. Be careful when starting any exercise routine, especially if you have been previously injured. It is always best to consult your doctor or physical therapist for complete programs, as all injuries require different exercises.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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