Low back curve and back pain

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Just about every client that walks through our door has some amount of low back pain. The reasons for their back pain range from the all-too-common inactivity to the more serious pathologies, like a herniated disc or spondylolisthesis. For those coming to us with general discomfort in their low backs, most have tried some form of exercise to help to relieve their pain. Most everyone knows that you must strengthen the “core” to keep your low back pain-free. What isn’t well known is that all exercise is not created equal. Giving the wrong exercise to someone with low back pain can be like a doctor giving the wrong medication to their patient … you get the wrong effect!

After collecting an extensive health history, one of the first things we check is the amount of curvature in the lumbar (low back) curve. Your low back naturally should have a certain amount of curvature (30-35 degrees). If your curve falls outside this range, this could be contributing to your back pain and it needs to be corrected. A curve less than 30 degrees is considered a “flat” back and can help to wear out your spinal discs much faster, which could eventually result in a disc herniation. A curve greater than 35 degrees is considered too much curve (hyper-lordotic) and can cause irritation and inflammation to the back of the spine … again resulting in pain.

Here’s where the right exercise comes into play. The most known “core” exercise in the U.S. … World … Universe (yes, I’m sure there are little green men on Mars doing them!) are crunches. We are a crunch-happy-society! So now we get the client that walks in our door and says they don’t know why they have back pain, because they’ve been doing 100 crunches a day! When we ask how they have been doing the crunches, the typical response is “off the floor”. When we measure the client’s lumbar curve, the low back is completely flat. Sometimes the degree of curve is as low as a single digit.

Performing crunches from the floor is a great way to reduce your low back curve … and performing 100 a day would result in a fast change. To help this client out of pain, we would eliminate the crunches and give flexibility/resistance exercises that promote an increase in lumbar curve. For instance, we would want to strengthen the lumbar erectors, the muscles on the opposite side of the muscles that perform a crunch movement. This would pull the lumbar curve back towards normal position, strengthen the back in the place that needs it the most, and address the real cause of the pain.

If you’re one of those millions suffering from general back pain, we suggest you find an exercise, orthopedic, or healthcare professional that can perform tests that will identify the root cause of your back pain. From there, you should follow an exercise program that compliments your back’s needs and gets your back moving “in the right direction” pain-free.

Cliff Long