Back pain is something that everyone deals with from time to time. Sleeping in a weird position or spending all day hunched over your desk at work is all it takes to have a stiff back for a day or two. But this common complaint can often lead to more serious issues. In fact, back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work and a leading cause of disability worldwide.
According to Medical News Today, back pain is associated with the way your bones, muscles, and ligaments in your back connect together. Developing a suitable exercise program will help you build strong, flexible muscles that will work together with your bones and ligaments to help prevent back pain.
So which muscles specifically should you strengthen to help prevent back pain? We have these answers and more for you below!
Strengthen your core
You know all of those crunches and planks that you do in the hopes of achieving a six-pack? It turns out that those abdominal exercises could help prevent back pain. Graeme Keys, PT, DipMDT, explains that whether a person is suffering from upper or lower back pain, a common cause is weak abdominal muscles. This is because your abs are the front anchor of your spine. Without the support of strong abdominal muscles, other structures supporting your spine (back muscles, for example), will be strained to work harder.
Besides your abdominal muscles, did you know that your core is considered to be your waist, hips, and lower back, too? Bodybuilding.com explains how the muscles in the core work together: “The synchronization of all the muscles associated with the lower back (the erectors) and waist (abdominal, serratus and oblique muscles) lends power to most of the movements we make, as they provide a muscular link between the upper and lower body.”
A common misconception is that it’s only necessary to perform ab exercises to have a strong core. However, if your goal is to prevent back pain, you’ll have to strengthen the surrounding muscles, too, including the glutes, obliques, and even the back muscles themselves. According to Spine-Health, strengthening these core muscles can help heal most types of back pain, especially the most common form of back pain caused by soft tissue injury or back muscle strain.
Movements and activities that you do every day use and exercise your core muscles. For example, when you walk or climb the stairs you’re using the gluteal muscles. However, strengthening the stomach and back muscles can be more difficult, and will require a conscious targeted approach. If your workouts neglect specific back and abdominal exercises to target these muscles, they will naturally weaken over time, thus increasing the risk of developing or worsening back pain.
If you are already suffering from back pain, experts recommend to perform abdominal and back exercises either on an exercise ball or in a pool. This prevents you from having to lay on a hard surface, which could worsen back pain.
Strengthen your glutes
The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body. While it is often associated with leg day at the gym, this muscle is actually a part of the core. Since we know that a strong core can help prevent back pain, it makes sense that strong glutes play an important role in good posture and a pain-free back.
When your glutes are weak you can develop lower back and hip problems as well as balance issues. Chris Kolba, PhD, PT, a sports medicine physical therapist and clinical instructor at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, explains that the glute muscles “Absorb shocks and control movements necessary for walking and other activities. When the gluteal muscles are weak, other muscles and joints definitely take the hit.”
Lower back pain can also be caused by a weak psoas muscle. Never heard of the psoas muscle? It is located on the side of the lumbar region of the vertebral column, forming an upside down V that extends down to the top of the femur. The psoas muscle along with the iliacus, make up the iliopsoas group, which are important to the hip flexor muscles because they help stabilize and support the lower back.
Improve your flexibility
A Harvard Health publication explains that supple, well-stretched muscles are less prone to injury. On the other hand, less flexible muscles and connective tissues restrict joint mobility, which increases the likelihood of sprains and strains. Thus, stretching is a valuable component of a treatment plan for anyone suffering with back pain.
In order to start improving your flexibility, it’s recommended to stretch at least 10 minutes every day. If you stretch less frequently it’s possible to lose any gains you have made in your flexibility. According to WebMD, while stretching and exercise is good for back pain, not all exercises are beneficial. Standing toe touches, for example, put greater stress on the disks and ligaments in your spine. They can also overstretch lower back muscles and hamstrings.
However, lying on your back to do hamstring stretches can be beneficial for back pain. As you lie on your back, bend in one knee and loop a towel under the ball of your foot. Straighten your knee and slowly pull back on the towel. You should feel a gentle stretch down the back of your leg. Hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds and do this stretch 2 to 4 times for each leg.
To sum it up
It’s important to keep in mind that you should always consult a doctor or healthcare professional if your back pain seems worse than normal or shows any signs of red flags (i.e. fever, trauma, numbness or tingling, prolonged pain, etc.). The information presented in this article can serve as a guide for knowing which muscles you can strengthen to help prevent back pain. Developing a suitable exercise program is based on many factors, including your age, history of back pain, other medical conditions, etc., and is best done under expert supervision.