Strengthening core prevents back pain

By: Kathy Hansen - Contributing columnist

You know you are getting older when your back goes out more than you do — Anonymous.

For many years, I suffered from back pain because of a ruptured disc. I ended up in the hospital twice, endured bed rest, medication and physical therapy. I am happy to report, however, that in the past 15 years or so I have had minimal problems with my back despite being a CrossFitter and Motorcycle Mama. All credit goes to my coaches at Hard Road CrossFit who preach proper warm-up and stretching, as well as ensuring we do tons of abdominal work to strengthen our core. For my part, I try to be aware of the amount of uninterrupted riding I do on my Harley Davidson and fit in some stretch breaks. Here is some “back”ground on back pain:

— Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide.

— Half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.

— Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work. In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections.

— Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain — and that’s just for the more easily identified costs.

— Experts estimate that as many as 80 percent of the population will experience a back problem at some time in our lives.

There are many contributing factors to back pain, including poor flexibility, weak abdominal muscles, obesity and poor body mechanics. As we age, arthritic changes and postural changes can contribute as well.

For folks who exercise or want to exercise, back pain can be particularly problematic. Pain, discomfort and fear can keep you from doing the very thing that can make your back feel better. For the majority of people, back pain is a result of a lack of core strength and poor flexibility. Once you address these issues, the back pain will be a thing of the past. After your health-care provider rules out anything serious, you can get started on the workouts that will make your back better and stronger. Here are a few things to add to your routine to help your back:

— Flexibility exercises: Tight muscles, particularly tight hamstring muscles, can cause low back pain. Build 10 to 15 minutes of time before and after your cardio workout to stretch. Invest in a foam roller to help you stretch out and relax tight muscles. Foam rollers come with either a DVD or instructional poster or both.

— Yoga: Yoga is a perfect mix of flexibility and core strengthening. Join a yoga class at the gym, invest in a DVD or, if you have cable, check out the On Demand fitness channel for a routine. All you need for yoga is a mat or soft surface and a yoga block to help you get the most out of your routine. Yoga can be practiced daily.

— Cardiovascular exercise: Carrying around extra pounds, especially around your midsection, can make back pain worse. Know the proper weight for your height and age, eat less and move more. Add walking, swimming or biking to your routine to burn some calories. If there is less of you to love, your back will thank you.

— Solid to the core: Core training or exercises that strengthen your stomach and low-back muscles are key in good back health. Find a class at your gym or pop in a good DVD and get going.

— Chill out: Did you know that excess stress can make your back hurt? Stress causes muscles to tighten, which can lead to more back pain. Manage the stress in your life by walking, doing yoga or anything else that makes you happy.

Low-back pain can be a thing of the past if you focus on flexibility and core strength. Remember that so long as the doctor says it is OK, moving and grooving is the best medicine to keep your back pain in check.


Kathy Hansen

Contributing columnist

Kathy Hansen has more than 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field, and currently can dead lift 195 pounds without injuring herself. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Kathy Hansen has more than 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field, and currently can dead lift 195 pounds without injuring herself. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]