March 25, 2012

Five Things To Know About Low Back Pain

  1. Your back does not “just give out”.   Acute back pain is usually a result of some type of chronic condition.  Poor posture, foot, knee, neck or hip problems can cause it.  Repeated movements, especially those done with the body out of alignment, can eventually affect the back.  Leading a sedentary life or being overweight are also factors that will eventually cause the back to “give out”. 

  2. MRI results may have little to do with back pain: Studies estimate that up to 35% of the population has a herniated or bulging disc and NO back pain, and, that up to 95% of people with back pain have a normal MRI.

  1. Stretching will not cure back problems.  Most people with back pain have a combination of weak and tight muscles.   Stretching alone is not enough to address the problems.

  1. Ice is better for acute back pain than heat.  Heat is good for chronic pain, but when the chronic becomes acute, ice will help with any inflammation, and act as a pain reliever better than heat.

  1. Generic back exercises may cause more harm than good.  If your doctor or chiropractor hands you a sheet of preprinted exercises there is a good chance the handout will be over 30 year old, and the exercises will not address the cause of your back pain.  In fact, I recently saw a sheet that recommended sit-ups and cat backs for someone who already has a rounded back. 

So what can you do for your back?   Stay posted.


March 18, 2012

Four Things You Don't Know About Stretching

  1. Stretching does not prevent injuries:  You have heard it for years; “stretch to prevent injuries”, however, when you look at the research there is none to support that statement. 
  2. Stretching does not prevent muscle soreness:  This is another oft-repeated myth that research does not support.
  3. Stretching is not a warm up: (See the post from Sept. 15, 2010).
  4. Stretching can cause injury: You can overstretch a muscle.  This is especially true of a muscle that has knots or scar tissue; if you put it under too much stress, it can be damaged.
Why are these facts so unknown?  For one, when “facts” are imbedded into our culture no one questions them.  For another, stretching feels good, and it seems common sense that increasing flexibility will prevent soreness and injury; however, the research does not back that up:  Does that mean stretching is bad?  I do not believe so.  Even if does not prevents injury or soreness, stretching will increase flexibility, something we all lose as we get older or inactive.  It is also a great way to end a workout, helping you to feel relaxed.  It  has a role in injury rehabilitation and in improving muscular imbalance.  Just make sure to only stretch warm muscles, avoid stretching before a workout, try not to force any stretch, and avoid bouncing.  You may not prevent an injury, but you will feel better.

March 11, 2012

Another Machine For Your "Waste"?

My least favorite machine is probably the torso twist machine.  You sit on the machine and twist your upper body against resistance, while the lower body is still.  The intention is to work the obliques (your waist muscles), however most of the rotation comes from the lumbar spine, causing compression on the discs. In fact, almost any exercise where your lower body is fixed and your upper body rotates (especially against resistance) puts stress on your spine.  If you insist on using this machine, keep the weight very light and the reps few.

You will get a safer abdominal workout by doing cable (or resistance band) twists:  Stand with your left side facing the pulley or band attachment, hold the band with two hands in front of your waist.  Twist towards your right, allowing your torso (and hips) to move.  Your left heel will come up as you twist.  This is a safer and more useful exercise (think about hitting a tennis or golf ball), as your hips are designed to rotate with your spine.

March 4, 2012

More On "Bad" Exercises

Despite what I may have written about high-risk exercises and “worthless” machines, I do not really believe there are any “bad” exercises.  There are certainly exercises that are inappropriate for many, and just as many exercises performed in an inappropriate manner, but no exercise is bad by itself. 
The key to avoiding an exercise that may not be right for you is to be clear about why you are working out.  Training to improve athletic performance is very different from training to lower your blood pressure.  If you are trying to lose weight, you will need to choose a different workout from someone trying to reduce back pain.
Know why you are performing each exercise and determine whether it will help you reach your goal (without injury).  An athlete will need to perform fast and explosive movements; those trying to lose weight should be adding intervals (see posts from Feb. 2011). Do not assume that an exercise is good because the buff guy at the gym does it.  Analyze each exercise and research its risks and benefits to find the workout that is right for you, and your goals.