Earlier this week we talked about core strength and its impact on back pain. Having a strong core not only reduces the duration and severity of chronic low-level back pain, but can also greatly reduce the risk of more serious acute back injury.
So how does one develop a strong core? If you took gym class in high school you probably remember doing sit-ups. You probably also remember really hating them. We’re here to tell you that it’s okay to hate sit-ups. You can have a strong core without ever doing a sit-up again. If you hate sit-ups, don’t do them. ‘What sorcery is this?’ you might be asking. Sit-ups are hard on your back, and there are much better ways to strengthen your core that don’t negatively impact your back.
Sit-ups work the hip flexor muscles—which attach the thigh bones to the lower back (lumbar spine) more than the actual rectus abdominus, or stomach muscles. Hip flexors attach to the front of the lumbar spine, so if they become overworked, inflamed or simply too tight, they can pull on the lumbar vertebrae causing misalignment and back pain.
The University of Waterloo’s Dr. Stuart McGill is a world-renowned expert in low back pain. In the course of his research, he found that crunches and traditional sit-ups place 3,300 newtons (approximately 340 kg) of compressive force on the discs of the spine when bent in flexion, potentially leading to a herniated disc or bulging disc.
In an article for Macleans, Dr. McGill suggests some better alternatives, “replacing sit-ups with exercises to strengthen the core while not bending the spine: bridges, planks, leg extensions, bird dogs, and stir the pot.”
(Macleans, http://www.macleans.ca/society/health/the-man-who-wants-to-kill-crunches/) These exercises still work your core, but do so with much less stress on your back. So stop doing sit-ups and start doing better exercises that will yield greater results without the increased chance for injury.
Here, Clinic Director Jason Hensen shows you some exercises you can do to greatly increase your core strength without putting undue strain on your back;
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