Friday, August 6, 2010

Spinal Stabilization - An Easy Way to End to Lower Back Pain

This post is a little bit of a departure. Instead of writing about personal strength, I'm writing about physical strength.

About five years ago, I had chronic low back pain. It made my life miserable for more than ten years. Any sudden movement would cause the pain to return and last for days while I took pain killers and tried various remedies.

I tried everything. My doctor said the cartilage in my spine had deteriorated with age, which is normal. Also, I had arthritis in my lower back, which is common. I went to a chiropractor, who administered a series of "adjustments," with no improvement. Occasional sessions in a hot tub provided only temporary relief. I bought an expensive new mattress, but my condition persisted. One day, I got the brilliant idea that a professional back massage might help. That almost crippled me. The one thing that actually helped was yoga, because some of the poses tended to strengthen my core muscles.

A friend of mine recommended that I see an osteopath. After examining me, he told me to do two things. First, I needed to correct my posture. This put me on the defensive, because I  learned perfect posture at West Point. I had consciously practiced it during my military career. But it turned out that he was right. I had regressed since my retirement in 1987.

What I learned from the osteopath was that correct posture was linked to strengthening my "core" muscles. He gave me a few pages from a book called Spinal Stabilization: The New Science of Back Pain, 2nd Edition, by Rick Jemmett. Instead of studying the sheets, I ordered my own copy of the book and read it.

The first five chapters - about 50 pages - explain the dynamics of low back pain and prescribe basic exercises. Because it isn't written in technical language, it's easy read and understand. I followed the instructions carefully. The exercises are so simple I did them on my own without going to physical therapy. The book suggests using an inflated ball, and I bought one at Walmart.

But I discovered that a five-minute session of isometrics sitting at my desk does the job, so I never used it. All I do is sit on the front edge of my chair, posture perfectly erect; then I lift my feet about six inches off the ground. This engages the inner abdominal and inner back muscles. I concentrate on tightening these muscles for a few minutes - twice a day. In one month, my back pain was gone, and it has never returned. For me, strengthening the core muscles is the answer! It's not the answer for some sufferers, but it's probably the answer for most.

The book explains why. Most people have very weak core muscles. The abdomen and the back have two layers of muscle. The outer layers of muscle are massive and strong. The inner muscles are smaller and grip the spinal column. When the inner back and inner abdomen muscles (the "core" muscles) are strong, they keep the vertebrae from moving and rubbing against each other, which is what causes the pain and inflammation known as low back pain.

Most "crunches" and resistance machines exercise the outer muscles, not the core muscles. These can be strong even if the inner muscles are weak. The outer muscles will try to compensate for weak core muscles, but they aren't designed to do that. They're too strong, and when they grab suddenly, they can make bones in the spine move against each other, causing pain.

Compared to the author's explanation, my brief summary here doesn't do the subject justice. You should read the book for yourself.

The question is, are you in enough pain to read 50 pages and try some simple exercises? If so, for the price of a paperback book you can see if this works for you. Most people will be helped, as I was. Even if you're in the minority whose condition is more complicated, strengthening core muscles will not aggravate your condition.

I wholeheartedly recommend that you read the book. If you do click on the link and buy the book from Amazon, please understand that I have no material connection with the author or Amazon and will receive no affiliate commission. The book helped me, and if it can help you and others, that's why I'm sharing this information.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


Sarcastic Bastard said...

Being tall, I had low-back pain for years, too. I practiced yoga fairly steadily about 4 or 5 years ago, and it's never returned, despite the fact that I haven't exercised (in any form) for quite some time now. I truly believe the yoga "cured" me.

You and Kathleen have a wonderful weekend.


Denny Coates said...

Yes, yoga helped me a great deal, too. I see now that many of the poses strengthened the core muscles, even though our teacher didn't overtly make that point. So I'm sure that a vigorous regimen of yoga can do the job, as can isometrics, and as can the ball exercises. I like the isometrics because they target the core muscles directly and the benefit comes with very little time investment. Although yoga has many other benefits.

Elizabeth (Beth) Westmark said...

I have re-injured my lower back a number of times over the years (the latest happening after a simple sneeze). I really appreciate hearing about your experience and am ordering the book today.

Thanks, Denny.

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