Put Your Back Into It
Hello once again, Jacksonville. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Lift with your legs, not with your back” many times before. Everybody knows that it is important to protect your spine from injury by not lifting heavy objects, right? Well, believe it or not, I’m here to tell you today that recent studies show that this common wisdom is probably wrong.
That’s right, using your back more may actually protect it from injury! In fact, it may even prevent back pain in general!
With the way we treat our spines these days, you might think that the spine is one of nature’s great mistakes, a fragile body part that must be protected from stress at all cost. In fact, the human spine was intended to bear heavy loads. After all, your spine holds up your eleven-pound head 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Imagine if you had to carry an 11 pound bowling ball in your arms all the time. You would probably drop that ball pretty quick – but your spine supports your head just fine!
Like other tissue in your body such as your muscles, putting weight on the spine actually helps strengthen it. This is known in clinical terms as ‘loading’ the spine. ‘Loading’ has proved to be critical to spinal health. One way we know this is because of what happens when the spine is not loaded, the one time when it is entirely stress-free: in space! Astronauts who spend months weightless aboard the International Space Station tend to suffer from atrophy in their lumbar spine and often deal with chronic back pain upon returning to earth. Why? Because with no load to support in free-fall, the spine is greatly weakened!
When the spine doesn’t have to support any weight at all for long periods, it becomes unhealthy. When it is put under pressure and made to carry weight, it thrives.
Another spine fact which might surprise you is that it is okay to load your spine while it is bent. In fact, the spine is actually more stable when it is curved!
Now, all this doesn’t mean that you should go and immediately try to lift the heaviest object you can find. One of the reasons that back pain is so common today is because most of us don’t exercise our spines and the muscles around them the way we ought to. Just like astronauts coming back from a long space-mission, our spines are weakened. A back-strengthening exercise routine is a great idea, but start small.
You should also consult your chiropractor, your physical therapist, or your physician about the best way to exercise. For certain types of conditions and injuries, some types of exercises may not be appropriate.
For those with relatively healthy spines, here are a few strengthening exercises to try:
Lying on your stomach on a flat surface, prop yourself up on your elbows with your forearms against the ground. With your feet resting on your toes, use your abdominal muscles to lift your body off the floor. Hold for as long as you can.
Lie flat on your stomach with your arms above your head. Lift both arms and legs a few inches off the ground, supported by your abdomen. Hold.
Does your gym have a rowing machine? Rowing is one of the best ways to strengthen your back. If you don’t have access to one, you can use a dumbbell instead. Bend over a chair or weight bench so your back is parallel to it and practice lifting the dumbbell up to your chest.
The Exercise Ball
Have an exercise ball? Here’s an exercise to try. Lie face down with your stomach on the ball. Lift your legs off the ground and hold them. Walk forward with your hands until your thigh are on the ball. Then walk back.
Keep strengthening those spines, everyone!
Dr. Christopher B. Renne
Board Certified Integrative Medicine
4111 Atlantic Boulevard
Jacksonville, FL 32207
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