Exercise Basics

Ways to Prevent Low Back Pain. Get on the Ball!

So, what is the deal with Low Back Pain? How come so many people have it, and so many others are likely to get it sooner or later? Why are low backs so vulnerable? Is that why you hear about “working your core” so much? What exactly does that mean, and what is the connection?

Lots of questions!

All are worth asking, and worth considering for a few minutes.

One way to answer all those questions is by taking a look at why sitting on a large stability ball, often called a physioball, is so good for helping prevent low back pain.

Once stability balls became “main stream” in the early 1990’s, people began sitting on them to improve posture, strengthen the muscles that support the low back, and encourage mobility in tight or weak muscles of the low back.

Let’s take a look at these three effects, one at a time.

  1. Sitting on a stability ball improves posture. How? The simple answer is that the ball wobbles. When you sit on it, you have to activate large and small muscles in your core that you may not have used in a long time. These muscles are deep, like right next to your bones, so that you probably don’t even feel them working. But, if they don’t get on board, you will have trouble staying on! The other role that these muscles play for you is to keep you upright, and in good posture. They are stabilizers rather than movers. Not glamorous, but working for you behind the scenes to keep your spine in good alignment. As we all know, having great posture helps you look good, younger, and helps you move better. And, by the way, good posture helps prevent low back pain.
  2. Sitting on the ball strengthens muscles that support the low back. Again, if you are not falling off the ball, it’s because the deep muscles that act like a splint for your spine are working. That splint-like effect keeps the vertebra in your spine from slipping around, and protects the discs in between the vertebra. That means that the more superficial muscles around the spine don’t have to work too hard to do that for you. This is a huge part of what they are talking about when they say, “strengthen your core”. When your superficial muscles don’t have to work too hard to keep your core strong, they can just be there to help you move, which is their real job. When they are happy doing just that and not other things, it can prevent low back pain from muscle overuse or spasm.
  3. This brings us to the third and last point. Sometimes it is good for your spine to move. It is not always about keeping it stiff and splinted. Your spine needs to be able to move safely to keep things healthy. When your spine moves, it helps deliver important nutrients and fluid to the muscles, bones, and discs. Without that, these tissues can shrink, become stiff, and lose the ability to withstand compression or stress. When too much of that happens, guess what? Low back pain.

So let’s pause a minute for low back appreciation. This area needs some TLC! The vertebra at the bottom of your spine (aka the lumbar area) are the ones that have to take the most compression and stress because they are at the bottom.

The curve in that area is there to help dispel some of those forces. Often, however, we do not treat that curve with respect! We forget to give it the support it needs during long periods of sitting. On top of that, we often bend forward with a rounded low back, which can squeeze the discs out and they can end up impinging on a nerve. If we twist at the same time, it’s a double whammy!

If you spend your time at the gym just strengthening the muscles that you can see in your front, the whole back of you is neglected and what can happen? Bad posture for one. But this is an indicator that the muscles back there are not holding you up properly. And, think about it…where is your spine? It runs all along your back. You are leaving that area somewhat unprotected, and then … low back pain.

OK. Enough. The take home message here is all about what we have learned from why sitting on a stability ball is good for you. It helps you maintain good curves in your back and, along with it, good posture. It causes you to use your inner core muscles, which strengthens them and keeps your spine stable. It helps you mobilize the low back area because you have to make little adjustments all the time in order to stay on the ball. These little movements help to keep your low back tissues nourished and healthy.  These are three key areas to keep healthy or improve that will help you prevent low back pain.

There are many more ways to keep your low back healthy than just sitting on the ball.  And, working with a stability ball can do many more things for you than just helping your back.  Stay tuned for future blogs about both of those things. For now, I just wanted to give you a bit more understanding and appreciation, so that you can start to protect that area, and keep yourself pain free.

Cheers for now,
Kristen

© 2017-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.


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