Your back is one of the hardest working parts of your body. Having a strong back keeps us upright and allows us to balance, walk, and be active. With a majority of us spending more time at home this past year, getting less physical activity can increase the odds of back problems.
There are a lot of working parts in the back: 24 vertebrae (in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar sections of the spine) held together by myriad ligaments and stabilized by more than 140 muscles – including abdominal, pelvic, and hip muscles. This is why we frequently suggest working on the core first when discussing minor back pain.
People often think of core strength as a six-pack, but abdominal muscles are only part of the picture. The muscles around your ribs, upper back and neck are just as important for stability, as they support the back in rotation. Think about these points when strengthening core muscles:
- Start by working in isometric positions to avoid compensating with other muscles. Isometric exercise involves static contractions of muscles without moving your joints.
- Make sure you focus on your form before you worry about strengthening.
- Coordinate muscle contractions with your breath.
It is very important to use proper form in static exercises (those with little movement) before you start doing more dynamic exercises (coordinating with other movement patterns). This is particularly important if you’re strengthening the muscles that support the back. If you put too much stress on those muscles, you will be putting your back at risk.
If you do experience back pain, one of your first thoughts might be wondering what’s causing it. Outside of minor aches and pains, there are three common conditions that can cause sharp or acute back pain.
The first is a herniated disc, which is when the gelatinous material in the center of the vertebral disc pushes through the disc’s exterior structure. The second common condition occurs from side effects of aging, like arthritis (when one or more of the discs between the vertebra wears down) and degenerative disc disease (when the vertebrae themselves have worn down). The third cause is problems in the sacroiliac joints, between the sacrum, the boney structure below the last vertebrae, and the ilium, or pelvis. These are all issues that you should discuss with a physical therapist or doctor to determine the best treatment for your pain.
Since back pain is so common, when should you call a PT instead of just strengthening at home? Check the list of symptoms above that commonly require professional help with your back pain.