The majority of individuals will experience some form of back pain in their lifetime – in fact, it has been suggested there is an 80 percent chance that you will experience some form of back pain during your lifetime (1). There may be a number of causes that contribute to lower back pain including poor mobility, muscular weakness, muscular imbalances, and inactivity. In addition to intense pain, back pain can cause movement to become severely restricted.
Maintaining a healthy back is vital – after all, the spine plays a key role in overall health and wellbeing. The spine provides support for the entire body, facilitates movement while also protecting nerves and the spinal cord – an essential component of the central nervous system.
Top Tips For Promoting Spinal Health
For those who participate in regular exercise, lower back pain can cause a great deal of frustration as exercise can often trigger pain. This pain often hampers any attempt at exercise and eventually you may need to take some time away from the gym to recuperate.
So, what can we do in order to reduce or minimize the chances of developing lower back pain?
1) – Get Better Sleep
Sufficient sleep is essential for prime performance. During the course of a day, the body is exposed to a lot of stress and must recover. In our hours of sleep, the body undergoes repair and restoration of organs, muscle and body tissue. If our sleep is stunted, recovery will not be optimized which will place the body at a greater risk of back problems. A combination of poor sleep and heavy resistance training can be dangerous as heavy lifting will place additional stress on the spine. With all things considered, getting better sleep should be one of our top priorities.
The recommendation is to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Consistently getting anything less than 6 hours per night can have some startling effects on the body including impaired attention, poor concentration levels, increased risk of developing chronic diseases, skin problems and weight control issues, to name just a few (2).
2) – Avoid Heavy Lifting Early In The Morning
Undeniably, rising early and training before going to work is a great way to start your day. Getting a sweat on early in the morning can help to improve alertness, mood and nervous system efficiency, however, there is certainly a danger associated with heavy lifting soon after getting out of bed.
You’ll more than likely be aware of the phenomenon that occurs while you sleep at night that causes you to wake up slightly taller than you were before you went to bed. It is suggested that during the day, gravity may compress the spinal discs and cartilage of the knees. When we lie down to sleep, the discs decompress and fill with fluid which causes you to wake up slightly taller. In this decompressed state, the discs are at a greater risk of injury and therefore care must be taken.
If you do wish to lift heavy in your morning session, wake up earlier than usual and move around for a few hours to allow gravity to compress the spine again and provide rigidity.
3) – Mobility!
One of the best habits that you can establish is to set aside some time, every day, dedicated to mobility and movement – your body will thank you for it! Studies have found that a combination of strengthening and stretching are great tools for preventing lower back issues (3) whereas having tight muscles and restrictions only increase your risk of developing and experiencing back pain.
Although it is important to mobilize the entire body, you may find that you have a specific muscle group that is particularly tight. If that is the case, it would be wise to perform mobility drills that focus on that specific muscle group to improve range of motion.
In addition to this, if you do suffer from pain in the lumbar spine, don’t automatically assume that it must be a tightness of the muscles in the lower back. Look further up and down the body as often tightness in the upper back, shoulders, glutes, and hamstrings can contribute to lower back pain.
When mobilizing, feeling a degree of discomfort is normal however, should you experience sharp pain, you must stop. Sharp pain is an indicator that damage is being done and therefore should be avoided as far as possible.
4) – Consider Your Exercise Selection
There is no doubt that certain exercises are slightly more risky than others – especially for those who have had back pain or continue to struggle with back issues. The best example is heavy sets of barbell deadlift which places a great amount of force on the back. A slight deviation in technique can cause injury to the discs of the spine.
Although the barbell deadlift is one of the greatest free weight strengthening exercises that can be performed, you must weigh up risk against reward. If you have previously had back issues or feel a niggle, perhaps it’s better to leave out the barbell deadlift and select an alternative exercise which is perhaps kinder on the back and thus reduces the risk experiencing an injury. (4)
A fantastic method can be applied to your workouts to promote spinal health is to alternate between exercises that compress and decompress the spine. This way you can still get in an effective full-body workout without overloading the spine. A couple of exercise examples that decompress the spine are leg raises, dips, pulldowns, and pull-ups.
The following table displays an exercise program that follows this principle:
|Barbell Back Squat
|Hanging Leg Raises
|Straight Arm Pulldown
|Hanging Toes to Bar
Even if you are one of the lucky individuals who has not yet experienced lower back pain, I would highly recommend taking these tips onboard. Promoting spinal health is of paramount importance for every individual and therefore you should consider dedicating more time to it. This might mean dedicating more time to mobility, setting the alarm an hour earlier and adjusting your workout program which might all feel inconvenient, however, you will certainly feel the benefits in the long run.
- Low Back Pain Fact Sheet | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. www.ninds.nih.gov. Retrieved 2019-04-26.
- Peri, Camille. Sleep Loss: 10 Surprising Effects. WebMD. Retrieved 2019-04-26.
- Publishing, Harvard Health. Stretching and strengthening are key to healing and preventing back pain. Harvard Health. Retrieved 2019-04-26.