Approximately 25 percent of Americans are affected by back pain in any given year, spending more time at the doctor’s office for back pain than for any other medical condition except high blood pressure and diabetes.
Back pain sufferers can potentially avoid those doctor visits, as well as costly prescriptions and surgery, by doing simple exercises at home.
A weak core is one of the most common causes of low back pain. Building strength and stamina in your core—the muscles between your chest and butt—can go a long way in preventing back pain.
Strong core abdominal muscles help stabilize your spine. When these muscles are weak, the long, strap-like muscles in the back—whose function is to help us rotate, twist, and bend—instead begin to take over the stabilizing function. The back muscles tighten and contract, which can lead to painful spasms and potential injury.
One simple way to strengthen your core is by slowly pulling your belly button in to engage the abdominal muscles. Becoming conscious of engaging those muscles while you perform everyday activities will go a long way to improve your core. Engage the muscles, while still breathing normally, as you go about your day—while rising to a standing position, lifting your child or a heavy object, or bending down to pick something up off the floor.
Two other easy exercises to strengthen your core are the plank and the “Superman.” To do a plank, lie down on the floor on your stomach and raise yourself up on your forearms and toes. Squeeze your butt and suck in your gut, while holding your head in a neutral position. For the “Superman,” lie on your stomach, while raising your legs and arms a couple of inches off the floor, again, holding your head neutral.
Hold each position for as long as you can. It’s perfectly fine if you can only hold for five seconds at first. Repeat several times a day until you can work up to a minute or longer.
Other exercises to strengthen the core include partial crunches, wall sits, and pelvic tilts. Some movements in exercise programs such as Pilates, Tai Chi, and some forms of yoga can also focus on building strong abdominal muscles.
Without specific back and abdominal exercises to target these muscles, they will naturally weaken over time, increasing the chance of developing or worsening back pain. Conversely, developing combined strength in stomach and back muscles can reduce the likelihood and severity of back pain and injury, improve posture, facilitate healing from back injury, and help avoid back surgery in some cases.
Exercising your core should be included as a part of your daily routine of good health and should only take a few minutes out of your day to complete.