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Lower Back pain and your core

HOW TO TEST YOUR CORE STRENGTH

Posted by in Lower Back pain and your core |

HOW TO TEST YOUR CORE STRENGTH

Core strength-do you have it?

Here is a test for you to see

There is a lot of talk these days about core strength and for very good reasons. You need core strength to help your body in everything you do. If not, you are in a lot higher risk bracket of injury. But how do you know if you have good core strength or not? I will show you a test so that you can evaluate your own core strength.

But why should we even bother about having a strong core? Firstly, it is not just your abdominals as many people believe. Your back, stomach, hips are all a part of what is known as your core muscle groups. The reason that these muscles need to be strong is that they support you when you do your daily activities. If they are not strong enough, when you have to do a certain activity your other muscles are then recruited to become stabilisers and you have just set up imbalances leading to injuries.

A classic example of this is the painful lower back when standing. Many people can not stand for very long because their back starts to ache. This is because they do not use their abdominals when standing and allow their lower backs to overarch. This creates a forward tilt in the pelvis. Two perfect examples of this are men with large stomachs (the classic beer belly) and pregnant women. Both suffer from lower back pain due to not using their abdominals to tilt their pelvis which will decrease their arch in their lower backs and remove the back pain. When there is an arch in the lower back that is bigger than it should be it then aggravates the facet joints which causes pain. It is a situation that is totally avoidable! Have you ever wondered why they have that rail in bars for you to put a foot on? It’s because by putting one foot up on the rail takes away some of the arch (from the forward tilted pelvis) and helps the lower back. A man with less lower back pain whilst standing will happily drink more beer! Very clever indeed.

Once you start using your core muscles for things as simple as standing correctly you will have less back pain. An easy way to check this is to look at a person’s belt from side on. The belt should be horizontal not tipped down at the front. So often you will see the person’s belt higher at the back and lower at the front. This is because they are not using their abdominals.

I will be doing a workshop soon on the facts and fallacies of lower back pain and teaching why your back ‘goes out’, how to fix your own back pain, the safest back strengthening exercises, best core exercise combinations and much more.

But for the moment

Rest assured I will be watching your back…

Oh yes, here’s the test for your core

The core strength test

  • Lay down in a plank position on your forearms. (This is the position as if you were doing a push-up but instead of your hands touching the ground you are resting on your forearms.) Do not arch your back! Your back should be straight which works your abdominals. Hold for one minute.if you can do this for one minute you have good core strength. if you can do it for 30-60 seconds you average core strength and if you can do it for less than 30 seconds you dont have core strength!

if you could do it for 60 seconds you may like to try the advanced core test below

  • Now in the same position lift the right arm of the ground and hold for 15 seconds
  • Return the right arm and now do the same with the left arm. Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Return the left arm and now lift the left leg out straight behind you. Do not arch your lower back. The torso should remain perfectly still, this means that your core is stabilising you. Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Return the left leg and do the same with the right leg for 15 seconds. Don’t arch your back.
  • Now return the right leg and lift both your left leg and right arm at the same time. Don’t arch your back and try to remain steady at all times. Hold for 15 seconds
  • Finally, return the arm and leg and do the opposite arm and leg for 15 seconds.

If you can do this you have good core strength.

If you could not complete this you do not have sufficient core strength and you should do this test as an exercise 3-4 times per week to build up your stamina. You will soon be stronger and have better core strength stamina which means you will have fewer problems with your lower back, your neck and your shoulders.

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HOW TO LUNGE STRETCH CORRECTLY

Posted by in Lower Back pain and your core |

  The good…

  • From a standing position place one foot back behind you in a comfortably wide stance. Make sure you keep the back foot facing forward, do not let it turn out. You may have to look at the back foot to check because it can feel like its straight when its not.
  • Bend your front knee so that your front shin is vertical, this will put your weight through your ankle and protect your knee.
  • Bend both knees a little and allow the back heel to come off the ground.
  • Make sure your hips are facing forwards
  • Ensure that your back is upright and not leaning forwards
  • Your weight should be placed evenly between both feet
  • You MUST tuck your backside underneath you by using your abdominals to lift your beltline up. ( a pelvic tilt)This decreases the arch in your lower back which will then give you a stretch through the front of your back thigh.
  • Hold for 15 seconds and change sides
  • Relax, breathe, smile and enjoy
  • Do this several times per day to stretch out the front hip especially if you are sitting a lot ( who doesn’t these days)

…the bad and the ugly

  • bending the front knee too much which stresses the front knee
  • turning the back foot out
  • arching the lower back
  • leaning the body forwards over the front leg instead of being vertical
  • allowing the front knee to fall inwards, keep your shin vertical
  • forgetting to relax, breathe, smile and enjoy
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WHICH IS THE SINGLE BEST EXERCISE FOR LOWER BACK PAIN?

Posted by in Lower Back pain and your core |

If I was asked which the best exercise for lower back pain is and I could only choose one which would it be.

I am sure that if you are reading this you probably are suffering from lower back pain or at least have at some point been suffering from back ache. Let’s face it, haven’t we all at some stage.

One of the biggest problems for back pain sufferers is that if you surf the net there are literally thousands of people claiming that they have miraculous exercises to cure your back pain. However there is only one problem. If you don’t know what to do you could make your problem worse, much worse.

Let’s take a lower back L5-S1 disc bulge as an example. It’s the most commonly affected disc because it’s at the end of the spine and has the most amount of stress put on it. It’s also the area where the lumbar curve changes from a lordosis to a kyphosis where it meets the sacrum. This area of changing curves is another reason that the stresses are greater at this region. The sciatic nerve exits at this region and this is why sciatica is most common as far as lumbar pinched nerves are concerned. The majority of disc bulges in this region tend to be posterior disc bulges, in other words the bulge is being pushed from the front of the spine to the back (away from the navel). Therefore if you were to do exercises that exacerbate it such as flexion exercises you could push the disc bulge further in the wrong direction making your problem worse. In fact, I had a client see me this morning who had been doing yoga for the past 6 months and every time she did forward bending yoga postures she made her back worse, so much so that she has given up yoga altogether. I would surmise that she has a posterior disc problem or at very least ligament problems that are constantly being overstretched doing these exercises. If you have read my other posts you will know that bringing knees to your chest, touching toes and other lumbar spine flexion exercises can be very damaging to the lumbar spine and should be avoided!

Another problem stretch for lumbar disc problems is the lumbar torsion stretch. Many of you would be aware of this one too. It’s where you lay on your back and pull one leg across your body with the opposite am outstretched. This too can make certain disc bulges worse!

Likewise if your problem was from spinal stenosis you could do extension exercises and aggravate your pain by doing these.

So the stretch I would do is one that is safe, both stretches and strengthens common weak and tight muscles and will ease back pain. The stretch I choose is to loosen our lower back muscles that are contracted chronically all day every day and are major contributors to back pain in most cases. The majority of us sit all day at our desks, in our cars or at the computers and chronically shorten a muscle called the illiopsoas. When this is tight it can pull on our lower backs and make sleeping on our backs and stomachs, sitting and even standing painful. If I was on a desert island and could only do one stretch it would be to loosen the illiopsoas muscles. One of the major problems when this muscle is too tight is that it restricts our amount of hip extension. This is very important because when we don’t have enough hip extension which we need to walk and do our daily tasks, our body compensates and finds extension elsewhere. This happens at the lumbar spine which is not good! If your hip can’t extend like it should your lower back does the compensating which means you now have hips that are to tight and a back that is getting too much movement when it should be doing its role as a stabiliser. It is imperative that this be turned around because it will and does lead commonly to back pain. What you want is to have the hips more mobile by doing the lunge stretch and your back staying in its more neutral position with reduced movement. Your back needs to be stabile not moving around all over the place to compensate for other tight and poorly performing muscle groups. Therefore the lunge stretch is the best single back exercise if you had to do just one! It also makes your body work hard to balance whilst you do it so it hasn’t the added bonus of strengthening certain other integral muscle groups as well.

I must add that it is very often taught poorly and not correctly. To be effective it must be done properly otherwise you can aggravate your back by doing it.

I have a full explanation on how to do the lunge stretch both properly and safely. So for those of you who don’t have time to do your back exercises here is one that you can do several times a days you stand up from your computer and it will help enormously.

One final word- remember to sit properly, to lift correctly, to get up and down from your chairs correctly and your back will be very happy indeed!

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the lower back quiz-are you destroying your back each day?

Posted by in Lower Back pain and your core |

The lower back pain quiz

True or False

Ok folks here we go. I am sure many of you reading this have a good idea of your lower back and what you should be doing for it and what you should be avoiding.

Right? Hmm, let’s see shall we. All of the questions below are to be answered either true or false and then I will give you the answers at the end. No cheating.

  1. You should do sit-ups to strengthen your core which will protect you back from injury.
  2. when  you do sit-ups you should have your knees bent to protect your back rather than having them straight
  3. its important to have a  strong back to protect it from injury
  4. its important to have excellent flexibility to have a pain free and stable back
  5. if you can build up enough stamina and are able to do 100 sit-ups per day you are going to have a better back than someone who can only do 10 a day
  6. you should do flexion exercises like touching your toes and bringing your knees to your chest  every day for a healthy flexible back
  7. the morning is the best time of the day to do these exercises
  8. if you have tight hamstrings this can lead to back problems
  9. unequal leg lengths are a common cause of back pain
  10. if you herniate a disc  the best exercises to relieve the pain and the disc bulge is generally bringing your knees to your chest gently
  11. to protect your back from injury, the best method is to build up the strength and get it as flexible as possible rather than build up the endurance capabilities of your back muscles
  12. if you injure your back, one of the best things you can do for it is to go to bed and rest it for a minimum of 12 hours so that it can recover
  13. if you have been driving in the car for a few hours with bad posture and then when you stop you need to lift a large heavy suitcase out of the trunk you should bend over and touch your toes several times to stretch out your back which will protect it from injury
  14. when  lifting something heavy, the best way to protect your back is to suck your stomach muscles inward towards your spine
  15. when lifting something heavy you should try to keep your stomach muscles as relaxed as possible to give them maximum power and therefore,  protection for your back

So let’s see how well you did. Of course it’s vitally important that you know these questions because if you don’t you are harming your back each and every day. Count how many answers you have that are true and how many are false.

Every answer you have that is false is correct and every answer that is true is incorrect. That’s right, every statement above is false!

You should never do sit-ups-never! It is harmful to your back and it doesn’t matter whether your legs are bent or straight, it still puts too much force on your lower back.

You back should be able to endure loads for long periods of time. It does not matter if you have great strength or flexibility. This does not guard against injury. Your back must have good endurance capabilities to withstand loads for extended periods of time. If you do not, when you get tired your muscles fatigue and are no longer supporting your spine which can lead to injury.

You should not be doing exercises that increase flexion in your spine bending forwards to touch your toes. The loads on you discs and ligaments are very harmful to your back. In the mornings your discs are swollen because they absorb liquid during the night. This increases pressure in your spine and in the first hour after you wake up you have a 300% greater risk of disc injury! Therefore doing flexion exercises in the morning is very high risk indeed. The have actually done studies where people who were doing toe touching, knees to chest type exercises each day and when they stopped doing these their lower back problem became much better just from stopping these exercises.

There is next to no evidence that tight hamstrings lead to back problems nor in the great majority of leg length differences.

The great majority of disc bulges are posterior and flexing forward will make it worse. This is why extension exercises are what you need to be doing to reduce the disc bulge, not flexion exercises like bringing your knees to your chest.

Studies have shown that lying in bed for more than eight hours is actually stressful to the back.

If you have been driving in a slouched position you have been pushing your disc backwards and a phenomenon called ‘creep’ occurs. Simply put, you need to be getting out of the car and do some back bending exercises to realign the disc in a more forward direction, not pushing it even further back by touching your toes. If you lift something poorly you are at great risk of damaging your lower back.

And finally, when you lift something apart from having your lower back straight and bending from the hips you should always perform abdominal bracing.

Abdominal bracing is contracting all of your core muscles to give your spine support. The sensation is very much like when someone goes to poke you in the stomach or ribs. You brace your muscles against it. You do not suck your muscles in nor do you push your stomach out. You simply tighten your muscles and no visible movement is occurring. This is abdominal bracing which should be done every time you lift something.

So there you have it!

More quizzes to come in the future

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the four best exercises for lower back pain

Posted by in Lower Back pain and your core |

The four best exercises for lower back pain

 

I have written at great length about lower back posture and its damaging effects on the back. I have also written on exercises that reduce symptoms of sciatica and why this works. However, today I want to focus on the four best exercises for your lower back and why they are considered the best. These exercises are to be done each and every day. They are quick and easy to do.

Firstly, let’s have a look at one of the biggest myths in back care today and why it doesn’t work. I am sure you have all heard about stretching and strengthening for your lower back to cure your lower back pain. There is only one problem with this theory-it doesn’t! The major drawback is that a strong and flexible back is not a better back. That is to say, just because you can get on a back machine at the gym and extend with 200lbs of weight you are not helping your back. In fact, the machine where you sit and bend forwards and backwards to strengthen your back muscles is one of the worst machines you can do for your back! The research done by the foremost expert in lower backs, Dr. Stuart McGill actually used this same action to make discs rupture! Dr. McGill has written over 200 research papers on lower back health and is one of, if not the most recognised researchers in Lower back health. When it comes to this machine he will tell you that it’s a sure fire way to herniate a disc. The constant bending forwards with weight added to it is extremely harmful.

So having a super strong back does not mean that you have a back that will be pain free.

When it comes to having a flexible back the results are the same. Many backs that are too flexible have more problems than backs that have a certain amount of stiffness. A flexible back can be an unstable back.

What you do want is a back that has good stamina. What this means is that your back is able to remain stable during your daily activities without breaking down. This is the great secret to back health!

A study in Finland showed that people who lacked back endurance (or stamina) were 3-4 times more likely to have back pain than those who had good or even fair back endurance. You need to be able to maintain good posture  both when you are sitting and standing otherwise you will lose your stability and protection, your back will become unstable and your back will ‘go out on you’ or to put it more correctly, be injured!.

Therefore it’s imperative to do these exercises every day to build up your stamina. The studies have shown by doing them every day your back will be better than if you were to do them only two to three times a week. Remember, you are trying to build up your endurance levels.

So before we start, if you haven’t already read my other posts on why you shouldn’t do sit-ups, trying to touch your toes, forward bends etc I suggest you do so that you can remove a vital component which is damaging your back. Also, if you are doing any type of forwards bending like getting out of bed in the morning and start touching your toes, bringing your knees to your chest you most definitely need to read my other posts on back pain because you are now putting your discs at a 300% greater risk of damage.

One final thing, please please please don’t slouch or lift things with a rounded back or work bent over forwards with your lower back bent-keep your lower back straight maintaining its inward arch and bend at the hips. By doing this you have just protected your back ligaments and discs from damage!

And one last final thing, you already know that you should not bend forwards with a rounded lower back because it is damaging to your back. Then what do you think you are doing when you lay on your back and do sit-ups? You are curling your lower back over and over again which is harmful to your lower back! The only difference between doing sit-ups and bending with a rounded back to pick something up is that you are lying on the ground when you do a sit-up. Every single sit up you do is damaging your back!

Ok, so here are the four best exercises to manage your back pain and protect you from having back pain in the future.

Cat-Camel

 

The cat-camel is a warm up exercises to get your back mobile.

Get down on your hands and knees and place them about shoulder width apart. Now let your head bend forward you also arch your back upwards as high as you can go comfortably. This should give you a rounded spine. Then when you have done this you arch your back the other way as if you are trying to touch your belly button to the ground and also extend your neck so that you are now looking forwards. It is a gentle rhythmical sequence that should not cause you pain. It is to loosen up the spine… Remember not to cause any pain, if something is painful please stop short of the painful range. Do this eight times

Curl up

 

This is to work your abdominals region and is the most effective exercise of its type. This will work your abs whilst putting the least amount of stress on your lower back and discs. You will notice with this exercise the hands are placed in the arch of your lower back so that you retain the arch during the curl up instead of allowing the back to flatten. This also protects your lower back from harm.

Lie face up on the floor with one leg straight and the other leg bent so that the foot is placed on the floor. Place your hands under your lower back with your palms facing down. Place your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Slowly raise your head and shoulders of the ground making sure that you are not allowing your head to push forwards of your shoulders. You should feel that you have a steel rod in your spine going from your head to your shoulders and you lift your head and shoulders from the floor as one unit. Hold for 8 seconds and repeat 4 times. Once you have done this, change legs over and do another 4 sets. If you are unable to do this many, do as many as you can up to the point of fatigue. Remember that we are aiming at endurance levels so by doing this each day you will slowly build up so that you can do more and more. You want to be doing more sets of 8 seconds as opposed to trying to increase the amount of seconds you hold the curl up. Breathe deeply as you contract your abdominals.

A more advanced version of this is that when you do your curl up also lift your elbows off the ground.

Side Bridge

 

This exercise will work your lateral stabilizers which are crucial in giving you support for your spine.

There are two ways to do this. The first is an easier version which I suggest you start with until your muscles are better conditioned.

Lie on your left side with your knees and your upper body propped up on your left elbow and forearm. Place your right hand on your left shoulder and slowly raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold this position for 8 seconds, breathing deeply the entire time. Do four reps, and then change over to your right side.

The more advanced version you straighten you legs. You have your legs straight and split apart with the top leg in front and the bottom leg behind. They should be about half a meter apart. I am not sure whether this is clear in my explanation so please just Google ‘side bridge’ and see an image if you are confused.

Bird Dog

 

This exercise works your lower- and middle-back extensors-the muscles that help you bend backward. The final part of your core muscles that need to be worked.
Once again you need to get down on your hands and knees with them about shoulder-width apart. Slowly raise and straighten your right leg and left arm at the same time. Hold for 8 seconds, breathing deeply throughout the exercise. Lower your arm and leg straight down, and then sweep them along the floor back into the starting position. That’s one repetition. Perform four repetitions, and then change sides. The important things to look out for here is that you are not overly arching your back when you do this. You need to keep that back in a neutral position engaging your stomach muscles as you do this. You should feel your stomach muscle contracting as you do this exercise. The other important factor is to make sure that you are not hitching your buttock up. In short, if you were to place a bar across your buttocks from one side to the other, when you lift your leg the bar should remain horizontal rather than being tipped up at an angle. You may need someone to check that you are doing it right.

And there you have it!

Do these simple exercise every day to protect your back, strengthen your core muscles-all of your core muscles, lift properly, sit and stand tall and say goodbye to your back pain.

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no more back pain and beer bellies

Posted by in Lower Back pain and your core |

No more Back pain and beer bellies

I was unsure exactly what I should use as the title for this. I could have easily called it ‘lose pounds and your back pain whilst doing the shopping’ or ‘get a free workout and be pain free whilst waiting in line at the bank’ or even, ‘no more lower back pain, a six pack stomach and bulging biceps whilst carrying your box of beer!’ but I thought that may have been overdoing it a touch.

I am used to carrying my baby around a lot these days, he is not quite walking properly and quite frankly, when you are in a busy supermarket with lots of people around and you want to get in and out as soon as possible its much easier to carry him. However, if not done correctly this will very quickly lead to back pain just like pregnant women can suffer from for the same reasons and it’s completely avoidable!

Many women suffer from back pain when they are pregnant, so do men with large beer guts and so do I when I carry my baby or other things in front of me if I am not careful. This type of lower back pain is very easy to fix once we remove the causes. I am sure many of you reading this do exactly the same because it requires less muscular effort, in short-it’s easier! Just like slouching in a chair may be easier for some but both will result in back pain. Slouching as you know is from putting the spine in an overly flexed (or rounded) position which takes your muscles completely out of the picture and leaves you resting on your ligaments and straining the discs. If you have read my other articles about lower back pain and sciatica you will also know that this as well as picking up things and bending forwards with a rounded lower back instead of bending at the hips (retaining your lower back inward curve at all times) will put you right on track to herniating your lower back disc or discs. However, if you retain your inward arch on forward bending when you have to pick something up( using the lunge, squat or golfers pick-up technique) and a certain amount of abdominal bracing to secure your spine(more of this in a later article) it is virtually impossible to hurt your discs or ligaments!

But, when you carry something in front of you like a baby you do the opposite-you lean backwards to take the strain off your arm muscles. This then puts strain on your lower back by compressing the facet joints and soft tissues. So you there are two very easy ways to remedy this. Firstly, stand up straight which will immediately take the strain off your lower back. In doing this, you will then have to use your abdominal muscles to keep you upright and standing tall which is exactly what you should be doing. Now you are finally using those core muscles for what they are intended to do functionally. And herein lies one of the big secrets to why people go to Pilates, yoga and do abdominal strengthening exercises but still have lower back pain. It’s no good to spend an hour each day strengthening your core muscles if you don’t then use them functionally during your day to day activities. When you carry things in front of you, use your stomach muscles instead of leaning back and resting on your joints to keep you from falling forward. Likewise, if you carry something on your side like a baby on your hip for example, don’t tilt your body to the opposite side to counteract the weight-use your core muscles to keep you upright. For all of those mothers(and fathers) out there who are carrying babies around and want to go to the gym but can’t, just remember that every time you use your core muscles like this you are burning extra calories and getting a free workout! And men, the next time you carry that box of beer, or tools, or groceries remember to stand upright, engage your abdominals and you will not only be saving your back but you will also be working on that six pack and toning those biceps!

Ah yes, I can hear the excuses now …

‘Honey, I am going down to the liquor store to buy a case of beer because I need to burn off some calories and work on my abs and my biceps’.

…no need to thank me guys, happy to help.

fat teenager

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