Many gym goers and fitness minded people know that having strong abdominal muscles helps to support the lower back, but not that many people truly understand how and why. Before we get into it, let me say that lower back pain is complex, and you should always consult with licensed health professional before beginning any exercise program.
Here is a brief over view about how ab exercises help to prevent lower back pain.
One of the structures that gets irritated in lower back pain is the cartilage that lines the facet joints in between the vertebrae. The cartilage that lines the vertebrae is different from the discs that help to cushion the spine.
The cartilage that lines the vertebrae helps to lubricate the joints so that movement is smooth and painless. When the cartilage wears away, these joints become arthritic just like other joints in the body.
Irritation of the joints is a common lower back injury, and there are two ways strong abdominal muscles help to protect the lower back.
First, strong abdominal muscles help to stabilize the pelvis and lower back. When the pelvis and lower back are unstable because of weak muscles the joints have to absorb more force. When the joints absorb more force, they wear away faster.
Secondly, strong abdominal muscles help to support good posture and prevent hyper-extension of the spine. When the spine extends excessively (when the lower back arches too much, sometimes referred to as hyper-lordosis), additional pressure is placed on the joints of the spine.
So the abdominal muscles help to decrease or prevent lower back pain, by helping to maintain good posture in the spine and also helping to stabilize the pelvis and lower back (lumbar spine).
Okay, let us talk about strengthening the abdominal muscles. If you ask 10 physical therapists, chances are that they will all have a slightly different approach.
One of the most important exercises to focus on in the beginning of an exercise program is the drawing-in maneuver. The drawing-in maneuver is used to engage the deep core muscles like the tranverse abdominus, pelvis floor, and lumbar multifidus.
To perform the drawing-in maneuver simply suck in your belly button so that it moves towards your back. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and repeat 10 times.
This is a coordination exercise for the deep core muscles. With sedentary lifestyles our core muscles lose their coordination and have a harder time stabilizing the lower back.
In addition to the drawing-in maneuver, crunches, the plank exercise, and a series of exercises while lying on your back can all strengthen the abdominal muscles and develop core stability.
If you want to support your lower back, ab exercises are very important, but by themselves they are not enough.
In order to have the healthiest lower back, you must take a comprehensive approach and include flexibility exercises, lower back exercises, postural exercises, and proper sitting and lifting techniques.
So treat your back well and start exercising today!