Have you ever had this experience? You bend or lift or twist and then suddenly feel a “pull” and then back pain and muscle spasms followed by difficulty flexing your back, sitting, or even trying to walk occurs. It’s a frightening experience and unfortunately for many individuals, an experience that can happen repeatedly throughout their lifetimes.
Technically, this is called herniating a lumbar disc.
These are the circular cushions in your spine between your bones called vertebrae. But what can help? Rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications are great for immediate relief.
But when it comes to helping prevent injury, exercise is the key. Many physicians in the fields of sports medicine, physiatry, and orthopedics are now prescribing a specific type of exercise for their patients called lumbar stabilization. This type of exercise has proven very effective in helping individuals who suffer from acute or chronic low back pain.
What Is Lumbar Stabilization?
Stabilizing the spine by strengthening our core musculature is important when it comes to preventing further damage to our backs. “To stabilize anything means to make it stronger and secure—better able to withstand various stresses and strains. A tall building can be stabilized with cross beams and secured with a strong foundation as well as a small amount of sway.
This will make it better able to withstand strong winds.
Our spines can be thought of like a tall building. As we go through our day, our spine needs to be able to absorb the stresses and strains of lifting, bending, rotating, and a variety of other forces. If our stabilizing muscles (the cross beams) are weak, the spine will be forced to take more of that load and may become injured as a result.” Regardless of the injury, the bottom line for someone with low back pain is that discomfort will often limit daily activities to a certain extent.
What Are the Stabilizing Muscles?
The stabilizing or core muscles include the abdominal, back, and hip muscles. According to many physical therapists, strengthening these muscles groups takes more than just sit-ups and crunches. Almost everyone has heard something of the connection between strong abdominal muscles and a strong back. Many people assume that doing a certain number of sit-ups every day will strengthen their abdominals and help their back pain. This is true to a point.
The abdominal muscles are crucial to good back stabilization. But it’s the transverse abdominals, muscles that run horizontally right to left across your lower abdomen, that are key. If those muscles are not working correctly, you may be doing lots of sit-ups, and strengthening certain abdominal muscles, but not working your transverse muscles much at all. And what that means is that your exercise program isn’t doing the good for you that you think it is. You need to learn how to kick in those transversus abdominis muscles.
Are Stabilization Exercises Appropriate for You?
When a physical therapist evaluates an individual with back pain for the first time, one of the things they’re assessing is the quality of lumbar stabilization. Once the weak areas are known, exercises can be prescribed to target those muscle groups. Therapists enjoy seeing people regain their strength and confidence as they progress through a series of graded exercises. People who don’t exercise regularly are often amazed at the big payback they get from doing as little as 10 minutes of stabilization exercises a day. And people who do regularly exercise are sometimes shocked to find out their exercise technique is all wrong, and that it may actually be contributing to their back pain. Some increased awareness and a couple changes in technique can do amazing things!
If you have back pain that flares up periodically, ask your doctor if stabilization exercises are appropriate for you. Physical therapists, with a doctor’s prescription for patients with back pain, can help evaluate core strength and develop appropriate and customized stabilization exercises. They can answer questions and develop a home-based exercise program to help reduce back pain. Good lumbar stabilization has many benefits. It’s not just about having a stronger body for strength’s sake alone. It’s all about doing something for yourself that may lead you to a more active and comfortable lifestyle. It’s certainly worth checking out.