Be Kind to your Spine at the Gym

Have you ever “thrown out your back” lifting something you shouldn’t have? You’re not alone! Between 60-80% of Americans have significant episodes of low back pain in their lifetimes. And once you’ve had one significant episode, you are at a much higher risk of having another significant low back pain episode in your future.

Thankfully, the research has found that individuals can significantly decrease their risk of low back pain with specific exercise training for their core muscles. It’s been found that if you systematically train the responsiveness, timing, and strength of the muscles around your spine you can have the ability to decrease your risk of injury for the future.

“Core Stabilization” exercises are all the rage now… and they are effective if you keep the following things in mind:

1) Keep your back in a “Neutral Position” throughout all exercises.

2) Don’t just focus on abdominals! Make sure that you focus on ALL of the muscles around your spine. You need to have strong back, hip and side muscles in order to stave off injury!

3) Keep it simple… and then ramp up to more sophisticated exercises. Make sure that you work your deep abdominals in safe positions on the ground before you start doing more complex standing exercises. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

4) Do dead lifts! Many people avoid these exercises because they think it is bad for their backs. When done correctly with a neutral spine this can be a very important exercise to build functional strength.

5) Stretch those hips! Tight hamstrings, hip flexors, and piriformis muscles can pull on your spine and increase your risk of pain.

6) Switch things up. The research tells us that “random task practice” is the best to challenge our core. Cross training for your core is the best way to protect your spine out in the world.

7) It is all about HOW you do an exercise! Technique is very important. There is no such thing as a “wrong” exercise; there is only an exercise that is too hard for you!

With these 7 simple principles, you are well on your way to having a safer spine. But if you feel that you still want some more specific instruction, it’s always a good idea to work with a specialized trainer who can make sure that they can monitor your back throughout all of your exercises.

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Diana grew up in a small suburb north of Boston. She received her clinical doctorate degree in Physical Therapy at Boston University in 2006. Diana started practicing as a physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital. While at MGH, she developed a specialty in the evaluation and treatment of complex lumbopelvic dysfunction. Diana is currently practicing at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston where she is the Orthopedic Clinical Supervisor of the Spine program. She is presently a Boston resident and her interests outside physical therapy include cooking, walking on the Esplanade, and international travel.

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