A study published in the Journal of Biomechanics specifically looked at runners, but its conclusions can be helpful to anybody that suffers from chronic low back pain. According to researchers from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, the primary cause of chronic low back pain in runners is weak core muscles. The scientists found that when people rely on superficial abdominal muscles instead of core muscles to hold them upright, the end up feeling tired, and they frequently experience pain.
According to Ajit Chaudhari, PhD and associate professor of physical therapy and biomedical engineering, When your deep core is weak, your body is able to compensate in a way that allows you to essentially run the same way. But that increases the load on your spine in a way that may lead to low back pain.” These findings can be applied to other types of athletes, as well as people who don’t engage in strenuous physical activities. The deep core muscles are the ones that are designed to support the body and keep us upright. When those muscles are allowed to grow weak, it forces our abdominal muscles to work harder than they are meant to, and this can lead to pain.
So what can a person with weak muscles do to strengthen their core?
Most people rely on sit-ups, crunches, and back extensions to flatten their abs, but these are superficial muscles that are not designed to do what the core does. Instead, your focus needs to be on exercises that force you to hold your body in place, such as planks.
Planks done properly have long been known as an excellent way to reduce low back pain, but if they are done incorrectly they can actually increase your pain. Here are the keys to doing planks the right way:
- Don’t let yourself sag. When you’re in your plank position, pay attention to where your butt is: it should be raised up a bit rather than sagging down towards the floor, but only a bit! Don’t push your rear end up so much that you’re in a pike position.
- Focus on keeping straight and firm. Remember what the exercises is called: the plank. That means that you should be as solid as a plank of wood.
- Pay attention to your shoulders. If they are hunched up and tense, then you’re not doing it right and might be causing yourself additional pain between your shoulder blades and in your neck. Your shoulders should always be relaxed and your shoulder blades wide apart. Align your hands and forearms with your shoulders and relax your hands too.
- Remember to breathe. By focusing on inhaling and exhaling while you’re holding your plank, you’ll find that it is much easier.
Planks shouldn’t only be done in a facing down position. If you do face down planks and one on each side, you’ll start adding significant strength to your core and give yourself a much better chance of avoiding lower back pain. To learn more about how to improve your back health, contact our New Jersey spine specialist to set up an appointment.